Around half of all workers in the United States have either cared for an aging parent or senior loved one in recent years or expects to in the coming years, according to an AARP Public Policy Institute Report. As the large senior population ages, more and more people are stuck balancing the work of earning a living with the similarly taxing work of caring for a loved one.
But as common as this situation is, our work culture in the U.S. has done little to adapt to the challenges and needs of the many family caregivers also working paying jobs. That’s causing consequences for both caregivers and the businesses that employ them. Read more about why businesses need better family caregiving policies today.
A recent report from the Harvard Business School (HBS) found that 55% of family caregivers are less likely to progress in business at the rate of their peers, despite the amount of effort they put in.
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32% of caregivers leave jobs that don’t support their caregiving needs, a loss that costs businesses money in having to find and train new workers to replace them.
Businesses supporting caregiver employees is not just good for the employees, it has real, tangible benefits for businesses as well.
Better family caregiving policies can bring about these three important business benefits:
For businesses to be competitive in their industry, they have to be able to attract top talent. Offering attractive benefits is one of the best ways to do that, especially if businesses can’t afford to provide the highest salaries in the space. Workers with caregiving responsibilities will absolutely consider factors like flexibility and paid leave policies when deciding whether to accept a job, especially if they’re in a position to choose between multiple options.
In addition to keeping employees around longer, better family caregiving policies can mean workers get more done. Someone that’s overextended and stressed won’t bring as much energy and focus into their work each day. In states with paid leave programs, 89% of businesses said increased paid leave led to either improved productivity or no discernable change. In other words, letting people work less doesn’t mean they get less done. Employees that can go to work knowing that their loved one at home has everything they need won’t be distracted with worry and they’ll have an easier time focusing when in the office.
When workers aren’t happy with their place of employment, that’s bad for business. They’re much more likely to be seeking other opportunities and leave at the first alternative offer they get. Without some kind of family caregiving policy, a significant portion of employees at a business will struggle with basic work-life balance needs. The HBS report noted that “Companies that ignore this emerging crisis risk losing their hardest-to-find and highest-paid employees — educated, skilled professionals… With those employees goes the substantial investment that companies make in recruiting, retention and training.” That adds up to a real monetary loss. Deloitte estimates that flexible work policies saved the firm $41.5 million in turnover costs.
As a family caregiver, knowing that your life would be better if your employer offered better policies for work-life balance isn’t worth much unless you can get your employer to agree with you. That’s the hard part.
But the business case for better family caregiving policies is strong. It’s just a matter of getting your managers to give it fair consideration. Employees at a number of companies have gotten employers to institute better policies, so it is possible.
Here are a few steps that can help you do the same:
Develop a persuasive case for how the family caregiving policies you want will benefit the company — not just the employees. Find data that back up your arguments and mix that with human stories that reveal the personal side of how family caregiving affects work. See if you can find examples of people who chose not to work for the company or who left specifically because of the lack of good family caregiving policies. Or share times that not having the flexibility needed had negative consequences for an employee’s life and work.
Organize the arguments you want to make in advance so you can present them clearly, with all the information you need in front of you.
Work up a proposal of what you’d like to see in specific terms. If you want to institute a better paid-leave policy, tell your company specifically how much paid time off you suggest and who you think it should be available to. Would you like to incorporate flexible hours or more remote work opportunities? Picture what that will look like. Try to think of challenges those options present so you can address potential objections up front.
Do your research so you can provide specific solutions and back them up with evidence on why they’ll work. If you can find case studies from companies in your industry, even better.
One person advocating for change alone in a company will have a tougher hill to climb than a group of employees working together. So you should try to identify other family caregivers working in the company. The more you can find the better. If you can find people in executive or managerial roles struggling to balance caregiving with their job, even better. Their words will have that much more weight when making your appeal to the higher ups. Then, talk to the other family caregivers that you find and ask them about their struggles and about the kind of policies they’d like to see.
Then ask if they’re willing to publicly work to help you convince the company to do better. If you can get them to sign their names to a letter or petition, or join you in going to HR or your manager to discuss options, you’ll have a stronger case.
Many of the policies that would most benefit caregivers would also improve the lives of working parents who face similar struggles. When Walmart recently expanded parental leave, one of the deciding factors was evidence of broad employee support, including a petition that collected thousands of employee signatures. Banding together with other family caregivers can help you start to show that broad support, but if you join forces with other employees that can benefit from the same policies caregivers need, your numbers will swell.
With more people throwing their support behind your suggestions, you make your argument more persuasive to the decision makers.
Although there’s no promise that putting in this work will result in you getting what you want, you won’t know unless you try. Businesses have good reason to listen. While progress on this front may be slow, companies will begin to see the importance of offering benefits that take into account the needs of family caregivers. If you can help your business be at the forefront of this movement, it will benefit everyone involved.
Are you a caregiver who has influenced better family caregiving policies at your company? We’d like to hear more about your experience with your employer in the comments below.