5 ways employers can support caregivers in the workplace
Guiding organizations to create a caregiver-friendly work culture
Sept. 23, 2020 | By: Kathy Spicer
Employers who are invested in improving the well-being of their employees have likely developed generous parental leave policies, evolved their paid time off allowances and maximized all the health benefits and work flexibility they can offer. These organizations understand that offering fringe benefits ultimately leads to a more productive and happier workforce. And while the most popular groups of employees that are viewed as caregivers are often parents, many employers are unaware of other types of caregiver roles that would benefit from workforce support.
Caregiving goes beyond just parenting—and can be extended to caring for relatives, friends, parents or children with disabilities. More than one in six people working full time or part time are caregivers, but only 56% of caregivers report that their work supervisor is aware of their caregiving responsibilities. And 14% of family caregivers care for a special needs child, with an estimated 16.8 million people caring for special needs children under 18 years old.
As one of those parents who is caring for a child with special needs, I know firsthand how important it is to be supported by your organization while facing uncertainty, obstacles and fears. Supporting caregivers is an opportunity for organizations to increase employee engagement and productivity, bolster talent retention and expand inclusivity.
Supporting caregivers begins with organizational workplace awareness
When my son was diagnosed with autism in 2017, I immediately began looking for ways to better support him. I started researching more about applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy and how to get him access to it, when I realized that ABA therapy and other similar types of services weren’t covered by our insurance. When I raised this concern to HR, they were surprised to learn that these services weren’t covered and partnered with me to work with our insurer. But as we challenged the insurance provider to cover us, I wondered how many other families within my company struggled with getting the support they needed. After talking with human resources, I learned that no one in the company had ever voiced any concerns or challenges. This got my wheels turning—I couldn’t be the only parent who had a child with disabilities and needed support. I wanted to enact change.
After having some candid conversations with my team and director, I was introduced to other employees who had children with special needs. I connected with our inclusion and diversity manager for veterans and disabilities, and developed the concept for an internal employee resource group (ERG) for caregivers—a way for internal employees, who in some way were providing care for people with disabilities, to connect, share resources and support one another.
Together, we developed an employee resource group and internal network to connect caregiver employees across the organization. The group grew organically through internal word of mouth, and as it got bigger, we started hosting a monthly support call and putting a framework around the program. The goal of our group is to spread awareness to enact change, find support through one another and learn how to juggle being better caregivers and employees.
5 ways employers can support caregivers in the workplace
Like all programs, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to supporting caregiver employees at work. Developing a caregivers program or support network is an effective platform, but through our experience, there are several other valuable best practices organizations can incorporate to further support their employees. Aside from offering more or adapting benefits, here are some other ways that your company can support caregivers within your workplace:
- Understand the challenges your employee caregivers face. Creating greater awareness of caregivers in your workforce and making space for them is an effective way to start expanding your organization’s well-being program. After doing research, provide communications and training for leaders and management to understand what their employees may be going through and how they can better support them. Oftentimes, caregivers not only face physical challenges of caring for someone else, but also emotional tolls such as depression and social isolation. Develop and encourage a culture that gives caregiving the same weight as other groups (e.g., maternity or paternity support) within your organization.
- Set the foundation for an employee network group. Internal caregiver resource groups are a powerful way to bring together people to share ideas and experiences and lean on one another. As with creating any ERG or virtual ERG, successful groups need to receive buy-in from leadership to run effectively.
- Build an inclusive culture. Sometimes employees don’t want to discuss the extent of their caregiving because they fear it will make them appear less available or capable and jeopardize their career. Curating an inclusive culture where your employees feel comfortable sharing their experiences can maximize their potential as they feel supported and can therefore be empowered to be more productive.
- Reflect on and expand workplace policies. Understanding the needs of caregivers will reveal opportunities for organizations to implement programs and policies that provide specific support and consider the unique needs of employees that are caring for someone else. Advocate for caregiver employees who are managing insurance or financial complexities and need to plan for long-term care.
- Connect employees with resources. Whether it’s offering public resources like financial planning, local agencies or curated community services, or connecting employees with experts and coaches, opening the door for your employees to access resources can help them in their caregiving role and ultimately enable them to perform better at work. Local groups, such as the Autism Society of Baltimore-Chesapeake, were a significant resource for me to connect with other parents.
Commit to a caregiver-inclusive culture to holistically support employees
As a caretaker of a child with special needs, it’s easy to feel closed off to the rest of your community or workplace because your reality looks so different from many others. But being able to drop your guard and discuss things that others are also experiencing, to be given words of encouragement and resources, has not only made our workplace a source of comfort and support, but has shown how inclusive and supportive our work culture is.
TEKsystems’ caregivers resource group has provided an avenue for us to speak up—for ourselves, and for our own children or family members. Everything we do is for their future—beyond just a financial or provider level. Creating an inclusive mindset and awareness within our organization has helped to shape a mindset where people aren’t seen as having disabilities or not; they’re just seen as valuable and highly capable individuals.
Kathy Spicer is a senior project coordinator within the national logistics office at TEKsystems.