by John Buckley
Executive Director, Independence Health & Therapy

Across the nation, our workforce is facing a growing challenge: the increasing burden of caregiving. There are 53 million unpaid caregivers in the United States and 73% of them are still working. To apply national stats to McHenry County, there are 40,000 unpaid caregivers in McHenry County, of which 29,200 are working with nearly 22,000 caring for a senior. Caregivers make up almost 20% of the County’s workforce. This dual role can have a significant impact on both the employee’s well-being and the overall health of the workplace.

The Toll on Employees

Caregiving responsibilities often come at a cost to the employee’s physical and mental health. Caregivers experience higher rates of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Studies show that upwards of 70% of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with 25% to 50% meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression. This increases when the care recipient’s health declines – 40% of those caring for someone with dementia suffer from depression and emotional stress.

On average, a caregiver will spend more than $7,200 per year on out-of-pocket costs caring for an elder. That number is higher for Millennial caregivers.

The Toll on Employers

A 2019 study by Harvard Business School reported the gap in understanding the impact of caregiving in the workplace. Few employers understand the impact caregiving has on the workplace – only 24% of employers reported caregiving affected worker performance.

However, 73% of employees reported having some type of caregiving responsibility. Of that group, 80% reported their caregiving responsibilities impacted their ability to perform their work.

In a recent AARP study of working caregivers, 53% reported having to go in late, leave early or take time off; 15% had to reduce their hours, 6% gave up work altogether.

Further, employers underestimate the spectrum of care responsibilities. They focus on the impact of caring for a newborn or adopting a child, a sick child and the daily needs of children, which are very real. However, 1/3 of employees who left a position cited caring for the daily needs of an elder. It tends to be the employees with the higher titles and greater responsibilities who leave for caregiving needs. Many more employees with titles like vice president or higher left work due to caregiving needs. This was true across all age ranges.

The Financial Impact

It is estimated that the cost to a business to replace an employee is six to nine months of that position’s salary. Caregiving has been shown to reduced productivity by an average of $5,600 per employee. When you combine the costs associated with turnover with those of reduced productivity, there is a significant hidden cost associated with caregiving.

The Untapped Potential

Despite the challenges, caregivers bring a valuable set of skills and experiences to the workplace. They are often highly organized, resourceful, and adaptable, qualities honed through managing complex care situations. Caregivers can also be more empathetic and compassionate colleagues, fostering a more positive work environment.

With the right support, caregiving employees can be thriving members of the workforce. They are often highly motivated and loyal to employers who understand their situation. Companies that implement caregiver-friendly policies can benefit from increased employee retention, improved morale, and a more engaged workforce.

Strategies for Supporting Caregivers in the Workplace

There are a number of steps that employers can take to support working caregivers and mitigate the negative impacts of caregiving on the workplace:

  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Offering flexible scheduling options, such as compressed workweeks, part-time work, or telecommuting, can allow caregivers to manage their work hours around their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Paid Time Off: Providing generous paid time off policies allows caregivers to take time away from work for appointments, emergencies, or self-care without financial penalty.
  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs): Offering confidential counseling and support services through EAPs can help caregivers manage stress, depression, and other mental health challenges.
  • Dependent Care Assistance Programs (DCAPs): Helping employees offset the cost of childcare or eldercare through DCAPs can alleviate some of the financial burden of caregiving.
  • Resource and Referral Services: Providing access to resources and referrals for eldercare, childcare, and other caregiving services can help employees navigate the complexities of their situation.
  • Building a Culture of Support: Creating a workplace culture- the Harvard study referred to it as the Caring Company – that is understanding and supportive of caregiving needs is essential. Fostering open communication and empathy among colleagues can go a long way in helping caregivers feel comfortable and supported.

By implementing these strategies, employers can create a work environment that is not only beneficial for caregivers but also contributes to a more productive, loyal, and resilient workforce.

Originally published in the Crystal Lake Chamber magazine