OFFICE HOURS: An open letter to all employers

November is National Family Caregivers Month. In recognition of this important occasion, I share with you an open letter to your employer.

Dear employers of my readers who are caregiver employees:

We are in the month of November, a time for many companies to recognize and appreciate their employees for their dedication and hard work throughout the year (I’m being generous here, and hopeful!). One of the things that I hope you acknowledge is your gratitude for the way many of your employees juggle their responsibilities as family caregivers, along with their responsibilities as your employee.

You don’t have any employees who are caregivers?  Mmmm… I kinda think you do. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, 53.4 million Americans, or one out of every five people are family caregivers.  That is, a person who takes care of a loved one — spouse, sibling, child, or non-related loved one — and is not paid for the service they provide.

You think that while that may be the total population, it’s not necessarily your workforce? Please think again. Guardian Life estimates 23 million (of the 53.4 million) Americans work a full- or part-time job while providing care for a loved one. The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers says that “Caregiving employees comprise a large portion of the U.S. workforce: An estimated 18 to 22% of the US labor force is comprised of family caregivers.”

Caregiving Employees (CEs) cut across all employee categories — most are full time; they are split between hourly and salaried; and they provide an average of 20 hours per week of caregiving. The reality is that besides giving you 150% of their talents to advance your organization’s mission, many of your employees are also holding down at least  another part-time job caring for a loved one.

As one who did this for both my parents over a few years, I can tell you that it can be very challenging juggling both priorities. Most of your employees probably won’t tell you — they might be afraid of the possible negative implications that might have on the quality of their work life or even their job. But, I will tell you:  Family and loved ones are more important than job and career.

I was one of the lucky ones. I worked for a university that got it. They accommodated me as much as possible and as much as I needed. I was able to change or alter my schedule, the way I taught and how I fulfilled my other responsibilities beyond teaching. I realize that not every job or every company can be that flexible. But, every company can do something.

From what the research shows in a Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute report, companies can do a lot better. You are losing close to 33% of CEs because you’re not accommodating or you are discriminating. And, those who stay, are costing you a little over 3.2 workdays per month in time off and 11% in productivity losses due to “presenteeism” (they’re at work, but distracted because they can’t leave when they need to take their loved one to a doctor’s appointment, for example).

What can you do?

From a legal and policy perspective, you can follow the guidelines from the EEOC. That’s a good place to start. More than that, Guardian Life offers several very doable steps companies can take to support caregivers in three categories: flexibility, enhanced benefits and organization-wide buy-in and support. That might look like remote work options and flexible schedules; access to virtual services like telehealth, or an affinity group to be a resource for CEs.

All these are great, but it really comes down to this: Acknowledge and respect employees who are also caregivers; support them with words of encouragement that are substantiated by actions that make it easier for them to do both jobs better. They’re not looking to get out of work or working hard; they’re looking for a way to honor their commitment to caregiving and be the best employee they can be.

I ask you to make caring for caregiver employers a priority! Everyone wins if you do!

Sincerely,

The Practical Prof

Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof, is a professor emeritus of management at Moravian University and hosts the podcast “Office Hours with The Practical Prof … and Friends.” His latest book, “The Lessons of Caring” is written to inspire and support caregivers (available in paperback and eBook). Website: ThePracticalProf.com; Twitter: @PracticalProf; Facebook: ThePracticalProf.

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