Do you remember what it felt like when we all packed up our computer monitors and headed home for “a couple of weeks to flatten the curve” in March of 2020? At first, it was almost fun, like a couple of unexpected snow days. But, over time, the reality of the pandemic began to set in. Employees did their best to create a mirage of separation between work and home. Especially those having to work while caring for young children and sometimes even elderly parents at home.
For most of us, the facade crumbled pretty quickly.
While working from home and virtual school certainly exacerbated the realities of caregiving, it revealed longstanding systemic issues, experienced by the 73% of employees who double as caregivers.
Caregivers in crisis
The term “caregiver” usually conjures images of medical staff or other paid professionals who look after children or the elderly. In reality, the vast majority of caregivers are unpaid, supportive family members who do their best to provide critical help to loved ones. Many caregivers are even caught between their aging parents and children and find themselves managing school schedules, meals, appointments, and, also, full- time employment.
The work of care is steady and taxing. Caregivers put in nearly 24 hours of additional work each week—the equivalent of a part-time job. Stretched between an overwhelming amount of tasks, the stress of trying to provide adequate care takes its toll.
From mind and body to wallet and wellness, the side effects of caregiving are plentiful. Seventy percent of caregivers report adverse mental health symptoms, including 85% of those in the sandwich generation. Twenty one percent report their own physical health as poor. 23% say that their role as caregiver has made their own health worse. The economic implications are equally bleak, with 45% of caregivers reporting at least one financial impact tied to giving care.
These statistics are alarming and illustrate the uphill battle caregivers are fighting. What is perhaps most surprising is that 21% of caregivers feel alone in their struggle.
If 73% of employees are doubling as caregivers, how can this be?
Challenges of under (and over) representation
The answer to this question is relatively straightforward—employees are scared. Only 56% of caregivers have the confidence to tell their employers about their caregiving roles. Moreover, as 80% of employee caregivers report that caregiving duties affect their productivity, most are likely worried about repercussions in the workplace. Consequently, struggling caregivers go undetected by both leaders and peers.
The result? A dwindling workforce and a culture is suffering from chronic burnout. The struggle of juggling work with caregiving responsibilities is a challenge in itself, but when employees are doing this without any support from their workplace, it’s often simply too much. In fact, fifty percent of employees between 26 and 35 left a job due to caregiving responsibilities last year. Their top reasons for leaving include costs of paid help, finding trustworthy and qualified assistance, and balancing work and caregiving duties.
While caregivers feel this issue across demographics, women are getting hit especially hard. One out of every three female caregivers considered leaving the workforce last year. One out of every three. Since the pandemic hit, the “She-cession” has been real and echoed throughout industries.Women are resigning in record numbers, and not because they want to, but because they’re overrepresented among caregivers. With ⅔ identifying as female, the burden gap is widening, and there is no end in sight for most.
The pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation have made companies painfully aware of high turnover and shallow talent pools. As they scramble to fill open positions and level up retention, it is imperative to not only build in benefits that address the needs of caregivers, but also to understand how many caregivers are in the company. Fifty-two percent of employers don’t measure caregiving’s impact on their staff or the organization - never realizing the weight carried by their employees. You can’t provide solutions to a problem you don’t know exists.
While COVID certainly intensified the caregiver’s dilemma in many ways, pulling back the curtain allows employers to make supportive changes. For example, caregiving doesn’t just happen outside of normal working hours, and employees are trying to be in two places at once. Nearly one-third of workers look for new jobs because their current workplace doesn’t offer the flexibility they need. As organizations move to reopen offices, it is imperative to keep this in mind. Flexibility in where, how, and when employees work is a life raft for many. If one day gets filled with caregiving responsibilities, they can adjust their schedules to successfully fill both roles rather than taking time off.
In building an infrastructure considerate of caregivers, companies can curb turnover and create a supportive culture where top-tier talent can thrive. If not, challenges in attracting and retaining employees will persist, and caregivers will be left to fight an uphill battle.
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