- Employers have several opportunities to ease caregivers' retirement insecurity, according to a new U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to the Senate Special Committee on Aging. The report sets out four policy categories through which employers and policymakers could help ease the challenges caregivers face: decrease caregivers' out-of-pocket expenses; increase caregivers' workforce attachment and wage preservation; increase caregivers' access or contributions to retirement accounts; and increase caregivers' Social Security benefits.
- GAO said an estimated 68% of working parental and spousal caregivers find themselves needing to arrive late to work, leave early or take time off during the day to provide care. Spousal caregivers were more likely to experience job impacts than parental caregivers (81% compared to 65%, respectively).
- In spelling out these policy categories, GAO said it was not endorsing any particular approach but noted that experts suggested employers could provide caregiving benefits, allow flexible work arrangements and permit workers to use sick days to care for family members. Policymakers, on the other hand, could create nondiscrimination protections for caregivers, expand Family and Medical Leave Act coverage and prevent employers from excluding part-time workers from retirement benefits, experts suggested.
Many employees will be caregivers at some point in their careers, and they'll likely need financial and other support. According to the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), 70% of working caregivers experience work-related difficulties due to their role, and caregivers' healthcare costs are 8% higher, on average. Caregiver absenteeism also costs the U.S. economy an estimated $25.2 billion in lost productivity each year, according to NBGH.
Unfortunately, many employers underestimate the effect of caregiving duties on their employees. According to the Caring Company in a report from Harvard Business School, less than 25% of surveyed employers believed that caregiving influences employee performance — but more than 80% of surveyed employees said caretaking responsibilities affected their productivity. While 75% of employees reported having some type of caregiving responsibility, more than half (52%) of the employers did not track the number of employees with caregiving duties.
Employers, however, are starting to step up their support for caregivers. PwC, for example, offers a return-to-work program that allows parents to work 60% of their schedules at full pay for up to four weeks as they transition back to work from full-time leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Working Mother magazine publishes annual lists of companies that provide the best working environments for fathers and mothers. The standouts often offer generous paid parental leave policies, childcare assistance and flextime.
But parents of young children represent only a portion of the caregiving workforce. Many — particularly those in the "sandwich generation" — find themselves simultaneously taking care of their children and their parents. Flexible work arrangements and paid time off can help busy caregivers meet both their personal and professional responsibilities.
For employers, caregiving benefits are becoming a new way to attract and retain talent in a tight job market. A survey by the Northeast Business Group on Health and AARP ranked caregiving among the top 10 employee health and wellness benefits priorities for most employers.