Marilyn sits down with a cup of coffee, pulls up this month’s sales report that needs to be finished by noon, starts typing, and her mother calls. This is the third time this week that Marilyn’s mother called her at work because she couldn’t remember when to take her medications. The pressure to finish this report in the next two hours are weighing on her, but Marilyn knows that if she does not help her mom sort this out now, she will likely face additional phone calls throughout the day at best or a serious medical problem for her mom at worst.More and more, employed caretakers are finding themselves in this position -- managing a stressful juggling act between work and caretaking for an older loved one. For employers, understanding the specific pressure points as well as the broad implications that employed caretakers face on a daily basis are essential to supporting employees and their families and to maintaining positive company outcomes.
It is estimated that there are currently 24 million family caregivers in the United States who also have a paying job.¹ This equates to about one in six employees providing care to a loved one in addition to having a part- or full-time job, with the average amount of hours caretaking outside of work being over 20 hours a week.² This number is expected to grow as America's population continues to age due to the decreasing birth rate and as people live longer, healthier lives. By 2035, the country's senior population is expected to outnumber children under 18 for the first time in United States history.³
Research shows that 40% of employed caregivers list the burden of caretaking as the top stressor in their lives.⁵ This level of stress can cause some employees to chronically miss work, to not be cognitively present while actually at work, to experience an increase in physical illnesses, and can lead to other negative, compounding emotional consequences. Lack of energy, sleepiness, and trouble concentrating are often seen. Oftentimes, workers need to unexpectedly leave work early or make unexpected phone calls during the business day to handle caregiving.⁶ In an AARP interview on employed caregiver stress, an AARP member said, “Caregiving is such an incredibly lonely and stressful thing. I didn’t even realize until[my husband] died how much stress I was under — the day-to-day stress.”⁷ Often this stress is not vocalized in the office due to workplace dynamics and assumptions that caretaking is only associated with children.
It has been found that the amount of time that employed caregivers spend on caretaking is directly correlated with the level of stress they are feeling. In one study, 92% of caregivers who spent more than 21 hours per week in caretaking tasks reported feeling highly burdened versus only 16% of those who spent fewer caretaking hours. The higher amount of stress with longer caretaking hours directly impacts employment outcomes for caregivers.⁸ 25% of caregivers who spent over 21 hours a week on caretaking reported reducing working hours and/or taking a less demanding job, 12% gave up employment all together, and 8% retired early.⁹
Reducing the amount of time an employed caretaker has to spend caring for an elderly adult is one way to lower the time and stress placed on an employed caretaker. Less time with the elderly adult does not mean the caretaker cares less about the person. It means that when the employed caretaker is with the elderly family member (or friend) the quality of care and time spent is improved. This is also a win-win for employers because the lower the stress, the more a company can expect to see positive work outcomes and productivity.
Outsourcing some of the logistical tasks to a paid professional can reduce the amount of time working caregivers spend on caretaking on a daily basis at an affordable rate. On average, an employee will spend 13 hours per month researching information on healthcare and planning doctor appointments. It takes time to call doctors, pharmacies, and discuss ongoing health issues with nurses and physical therapists for an elderly family member. It’s exhausting to think about getting groceries for their own families let alone for their older loved ones or stopping by the pharmacy more often after a long day on the job. These activities can be coordinated by professionals.¹⁰
Moreover, many family caretakers are not trained in dealing with an elderly individual who has a chronic disease(s) such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.They spend long hours researching or meeting with doctors and nurses to learn how to handle such conditions; alternatively, and often, they spend long hours managing the repercussions of not managing these diseases optimally. Caretakers also spend additional time communicating with government agencies, billing departments, and other community services.¹¹ Often, these tasks require multiple follow-ups, which can be distracting and time-consuming while trying to work. Removing any of these burdens from caretakers can free up time at work for employees to focus on the tasks at hand.
Companies can do more to help ease the burden of caregiving and increase the quality of life, productivity, and longevity of their workforce. AARP has a running list of recommendations for company policies that range from low-cost to extensive. Creating caregiving resource lists for employees is a low-cost place to start. Providing support groups for caregivers, either by professionals or hosted by other caregiver employees, can provide an effective support network among employees. Providing yoga and other types of exercises classes is a great stress reduction technique. AARP also recommends companies increase paid family leave, allow paid sick days to be used for caregiving, and subsidize back-up home care.¹²
Jason sits down with a cup of coffee, pulls up the marketing piece he needs to get out the door, starts on the finishing touches, and an hour later hits “send” and it’s on its way to his new client. He finds out while talking with his mom afterwork that his mother received her daily reminder call about her medications from her “health partner,” Marie, who is with one of his employer-sponsored senior adult support programs that he selected from his benefits options. Not only that, but Marie already scheduled his mother’s ride to bridge the next day too. Justin’s day was less stressful than Marilyn’s because he was able to complete his report on time and had peace of mind that his mom had had a nice chat with her health partner, Marie, that day. His mom really enjoys her chats with Marie, they’d become a highlight of her week. And Justin knew that when he talked to his mom that night they’d be able to talk about more pleasant things than medications and transportation arrangements.
Companies need to continue to consider the stress of caregiving in their overall employee wellness efforts and benefits programs, and are encouraged to find practical win-win solutions to the ever-increasing stress of employee caretaking.