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November 15, 2023

How to provide meaningful benefits to employees who are caregivers

November is National Family Caregiver Month and a good time to bring attention to an issue facing more than 160,000 Mainers — the responsibility of being a family caregiver.

Courtesy photo
Megan Walton, Southern Maine Agency on Aging

Family caregivers are individuals who take care of their spouse, parent, or other relative. This might mean providing help with errands, housecleaning, driving to doctors appointments, personal hygiene, or even basic medical care such as ensuring medications are being taken properly.

Often, caregivers may not even identify themselves as such, instead seeing the work they do as just part of what it means to be family. 

Whether someone calls themselves a caregiver or not, or talks about it at work, the fact of the matter is that shouldering this responsibility often takes a physical and emotional toll on a person. Chances are good that there is someone in your organization who is a family caregiver and may need and appreciate extra support from their employer.

This support is valuable for your employees’ health and wellness, but it can also benefit your organization. During the workforce crunch, knowing that they have the support of an employer could be the difference between a qualified prospect taking the job with you or going elsewhere. 

Here are three ways that you can support employees who are caregivers. 

Flexible scheduling

In 2021, a survey found that over 70% of caregivers had to call out for a day or leave early. Caregivers need flexibility. In today’s world, flexible scheduling means more than flexible hours. It means flexibility about where and how you work. If your employees who are caregivers know that they can take calls from their car while waiting at a doctors appointment, or work one day a week from home if they need to be closer to their family member, it will be a huge weight off their shoulders.

This isn’t to discount the importance of flexible hours, either — being able to work 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. instead of 9-to-5 can be the difference-maker in stress levels for someone who has to check in on a parent or bring a spouse to a doctor’s appointment.  

Flexible sick benefits

When a person has to take into account a loved one’s illnesses or doctors appointments, their sick time can be used up quickly. The same survey cited above showed that 52% of caregivers lost income because of missed work. By allowing employees to earn an unlimited amount of sick time that they can use for themselves or for others’ health needs, you are giving them the freedom they need to both fulfill their caregiving responsibilities and take care of their own physical health.

Rather than coming into work when they’re sick because they’ve used up sick time on their parent’s doctors appointments, employees can get the rest and care they need to be healthy and do their best work for your organization.

Connection to resources

Employers can play an important role in letting caregivers know they are supported outside of the office, too. Just as your employee assistance program or HR department may provide information about physical health or mental health resources, they can also be a source of information for caregivers.

Making brochures or flyers available about programs such as Savvy Caregiver (a national caregiver training program), connecting them with federal or state caregiver benefit programs, or having the number for your local area agency on aging readily available are all great resources. Another option might be to bring in an outside resource on caregiving to do a “Lunch and Learn” or other employee education program. 

Depending on how large or small your organization is, and what type of industry you’re in, not all of these options may be possible. However, doing what you can to support family caregivers can go a long way in establishing your organization as a workplace that values employees as people, respects that there is more to life than work, and creates a culture that employees are excited to be a part of. 

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