What is the true cost of caregiving on the workforce?
- Employers underestimate the extent to which caretaking duties affect employees, according to the Caring Company in a report from Harvard Business School. Fewer than a quarter of employers said they think caregiving influences employee performance, while more than 80% of employees said caretaking responsibilities have affected their productivity. Three in four employees said they have some type of caregiving responsibility, for example, but 52% of employers do not track data on how many employees have these duties. Employers did recognize how caretaking duties can sometimes slow or halt an employee's career, but the usage patterns for 16 benefits examined "were consistently and often woefully low."
- The study found that few employees are open about caregiving duties because they lack a "supportive 'care culture,'" the study said. Among respondents who are self-professed caregivers, 28% reported that caregiving hurt their careers. These employees said they perceived ramifications like demotivation born from a lack of challenging assignments, smaller salary increases or bonuses and an unsatisfactory career path.
- One-third of workers said they had quit a job to attend to caregiving responsibilities. This was true for half of employees ages 26-35 and 27% of employees ages 18-25. When grouped by age and titles, the survey revealed caretaking-related exit rates rose with position ranking: in the 26-35 age group, 23% of employees, 44% of managers of employees, 53% of managers of managers and 61% of senior leaders had quit. More than half of caretakers (57%) who left a job said they did so to take care of a newborn or newly adopted child, and more than 40% said they left needing to care for a sick child or manage a child's daily needs. Another third of workers, however, left a position because they needed to care for an elderly relative. A quarter quit to care for an ill or disabled spouse, partner or family member.
Employers need to take responsibility for the caretaking problem, Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School Joseph B. Fuller said. "We create, to a certain extent, an artificial shortage of talent that employers say they want because we're missing one of the huge drivers of people leaving the workforce," Fuller told HR Dive in an interview. By collecting and assessing data and rethinking traditional career tracks, employers can begin to shrink the gap between reality and their understanding of the responsibilities and effects caretaking entails, Fuller said.
Businesses can start by considering the caretaker benefits they offer. "The costs associated with voluntary turnover and lost productivity — through presenteeism, through distraction — driven by caretaking duties are much more substantial than employers take into account," Fuller said. "Businesses are either reluctant to revisit or change their benefits offers or their terms of employment because they are acutely aware of the costs of that." If an employer gives employees a subsidy for childcare, leaders may feel that investment yields nothing if they don't consider the full costs of childcare to begin with. "Because they are not attuned to gathering the data of making that investment, they always get an ROI of zero because they don't understand the return of that because it's indirect," Fuller said.
A true solution to the caretaking problem may require employers to not only rethink job requirements, workloads and benefits, but also redesign career paths as the world knows them. "You keep trying to accommodate care accommodations through the lens of the career paths as they are currently constructed," Fuller said. "You need to go back to the drawing board of your career paths."
This process may take on different iterations for every industry, but every employer will need to do some reflecting. "I want employers to ask themselves, 'Is what we expect of someone necessary? How do we change this so it's more accommodating to people?'" Fuller said.
Movement in the caretaking space is ongoing; for example, HR Dive recognized in its Dive Awards PwC's return-to-work program for parents. The program allows parents to work 60% of their schedules at 100% pay for up to four weeks as they transition from full-time leave to full-time work after the birth or adoption of a child. Working Mother magazine annually lists companies that make the best working environments for mothers and fathers. Companies that win often boast robust paid parental leave policies, flextime and childcare assistance.
Of course, parents aren't the only employees who have to fulfill caretaking duties. Many workers have entered the "sandwich generation" and find themselves taking care of children and parents at the same time. Flexible work arrangements and paid time off often can enable these caretakers to fulfill both their home and work responsibilities.
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