1 in 6 workers are caregivers, but less than 1 in 5 have access to paid family leave benefits.
“Caregiving and working can be very challenging,” said LaRhonda Gibson, Colonial Life employee and full-time caregiver for her parents who live 40 minutes away. “Every week, I help them manage their doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping, and prescriptions. I’m happy to do it for them, but it can be overwhelming at times.”
We talked to several of Unum and Colonial Life employee caregivers to learn how companies, managers and teammates can better support them. Here are 6 take-aways.
1. Encourage open, honest dialogue about each person’s unique situation. This enables employees to come forward with their needs early and sparks understanding and empathy among the team.
“Transparency is key,” LaRhonda said. “And having a listening ear so they understand your challenges.”
2. Set expectations early of when and how the employee may need support so when a caregiving situation arises, the team can adjust quickly and help cover the schedule.
“Chances are, an emergency health situation for a family member will be emotional for the employee, so having a game plan early is one less thing the employee has to worry about,” advises Unum employee Emily Flynn, whose husband has a chronic condition that can require brain surgery at a moment’s notice.
3. Allow flexible schedules or remote work options. This allows employees to better manage doctors’ visits or emergency situations for their loved ones.
“Having the option to work from home allows me to manage my workday while also tending to my mom’s needs,” said Beth Pizzo, whose neighboring mom needs frequent reminders to take her medication. “It helps me balance work and family commitments.”
“My work flexibility allows me to start my day as early as 6 a.m. on appointment days and work as late as 8:30 p.m.,” LaRhonda said.
4. Check on their emotional well-being. Leah Gove, who cares for her live-in mother, says she often feels guilty balancing work with caregiving. “I want to be the best employee that I can while also providing the best possible care for my mom. When one of those commitments requires extra time, I often feel like I’m falling short in the other.”
LaRhonda agrees: “Caregiving and working can be very challenging. I try to keep a positive attitude because it can be overwhelming.”
5. Refer them to resources. The toll on working caregivers is far-reaching, with many reporting stress, anxiety, or depression (61%), exhaustion (49%), and financial strain (44%).
Employee assistance programs provide mental health counseling for employee caregivers who often feel stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, and can also help research additional resources, such as local care assistance providers.
“These services allow employees to focus on their loved ones and get the emotional support they need,” Leah added after recalling the amount of time it took to research local resources for her mom to help while Leah was away at work.
6. Offer paid family or caregiver leave. Although U.S. companies are legally required to offer employees job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, this time away from work is often unpaid— which can create additional financial pressure for workers during an already challenging economy.
Unum and Colonial Life recently granted 5 consecutive business days of paid caregiver leave for eligible U.S. employees who need time away from work to care for a spouse, child, or parent due to a serious health condition.
“It’s a relief to know I have this option if I need it,” Leah said. “It makes me proud to work for a company that recognizes employee needs and finds different ways to support them through their challenges.”
“For me, the new paid caregiver leave benefit means that I do not have to sit and reevaluate monthly expenses when I’m also dealing with an emergency,” said Emily.