Employers may look on caregiving as a unique or rare situation employees find themselves in, but according to a presentation from the Disability Management Employer Coalition’s annual virtual conference Aug. 31, nearly half of employees are or will soon become caregivers for a child or parent. Businesses may do well to look at caregiving as the norm for workers, rather than an outlier.
While caregiving is common, it looks different for everyone, Kristin Seidman, senior product manager at Lincoln Financial Group and a DMEC panelist, pointed out. A wide range of physical and mental health conditions can create a similarly wide range of needs, appointments and treatments. Those caring for infants have different demands than those caring for small children or teenagers.
Seidman, along with her Lincoln Financial Group colleagues Marissa Mayfield, senior product manager, and Dr. David Berube, chief medical officer, walked through some of the steps businesses can take to set themselves apart when it comes to supporting caregivers.
1. Provide flexibility in how leave can be used
Many employers offer paid parental leave on top of the federally mandated Family and Medical Leave Act. But not all employers are flexible in how employees can use such leave.
For Mayfield, flexible parental leave was a godsend. Her daughter, Brielle, was born in February 2021 at 25 weeks, weighing just over a pound, she said. Brielle spent 225 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, requiring Mayfield to take significant time off. She used short-term disability while Brielle was in the NICU and was able to defer paid parental leave and some FMLA leave until her daughter came home.
Mayfield pointed to the experience of a friend she made at the NICU, whose son was also born several months early. “When he finally got to come home, unfortunately she only had one week of paid time off to be able to help get him adjusted to being in the home,” she said, “which was very stressful and challenging.”
Flexibility in leave can help caregivers use it when it best suits their needs, reducing unnecessary stress and boosting employee retention.
2. Be proactive in offering resources
Some workplaces have a range of benefits available, but require employees to do the legwork to seek them out and ask the right questions. It may seem like a small thing, but HR pros who take a proactive approach when they learn of a life event like a pregnancy, premature birth or parental health emergency can set themselves apart.
“I … appreciated that my manager … was proactive about outlining some of the ways that the company could accommodate me,” Mayfield said. “I didn't have to track her down or try to, you know, pry some of that information [out of her].”
3. Provide sensitivity training to managers
Similarly, employers can give those who manage people soft-skills training. That may seem like a small or insignificant step, but could make an enormous difference. “A manager that has been given the proper tools to know how to engage in conversations with employees, how to work through their needs, how to show empathy and how to show authentic interest and engagement in what they have going on … certainly that that can really make a difference for an employee as you’re working through whatever your caregiving challenges are,” Mayfield said. “[A] manager can make or break an employee’s experience at work.”
4. Build supportive community at work with ERGs
Employee resource groups are often built on identity characteristics like race, gender and sexual orientation, but they can be just as helpful as affinity groups for people sharing similar life stages or circumstances, like caregiving for a child or parent. Companies can set up working-parent and eldercare ERGs that help employees trade ideas, share resources and find community support, panelists said.
ERGs can also serve a beneficial role for HR, providing useful feedback on benefits and serving as a place for HR to experiment with new policies or programs, Mayfield noted.
5. Guide employees on career growth during caregiving journeys
Employers that view caregivers as valued employees for their insights and career output — rather than workers who are just trying to get by — can really make themselves stand out, panelists noted. Providing guidance to support career growth during a caregiving journey can keep workers engaged and motivated while they balance their caregiving responsibilities with work.
“There have been many times in the back of my head that I felt like, ‘Wow, it'd be great if I had a coach or someone that I could talk to that isn't necessarily engaged in the day-to-day work that I'm doing,’” Mayfield said — someone who could help with planning, goal-setting and other, broader career needs.
6. Provide creative lifestyle and fringe benefits
Mayfield said one her favorite approaches to easing caregiving for workers is “thinking about ways that benefits can make employees’ lives easier.” Some of these are straightforward — companies have increasingly looked into elder care benefits and disability care benefits, for example.
But other benefits may seem less obvious, yet be nearly as helpful. Mayfield pointed to meal delivery services as one example. “It may not seem like that’s a direct benefit,” she said. “But if you’re someone that is working, and you're trying to work through coordinating care for your family member, and you also have to get meals on the table, things like that ... are all considerations for ways that you can help a caregiver in their day-to-day responsibilities.”