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Blue @ Work

How to support employees with caregiver responsibilities

And help keep them healthy.

When your employees clock in for the day, there’s a good chance they aren’t always able to bring their full selves to work. That’s because the ever-increasing need for caregiving — caring for family members and friends who are young, elderly or have serious medical conditions — encompasses nearly 51 million Americans External Site, according to a recent report from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

What does it mean to be a caregiver?

Anyone can be a caregiver, no matter their age, gender, job title, or ethnicity. Employees can be caregivers for small children, elderly parents, or a disabled spouse or sibling. Even if your company isn’t large, chances are you have at least one employee who has caregiving responsibilities outside of their job. The chances are even higher that your employees who are caregivers don’t even think of themselves as one. Many people who provide caregiving support to friends or loved ones in addition to their full-time job don’t self-identify as caregivers, because they see themselves as just helping out.

Caregiving responsibilities often start small. An hour here to drive someone to a medical appointment, 30 minutes there on the phone arranging for meal delivery — but over time, tasks can amount to an uncompensated part-time or even a full-time job with daily responsibilities. Many caregivers maintain their normal work schedule in addition to providing care to a loved one. The result? Poor health outcomes for caregivers and a significant overall economic strain.

The economic and workplace impacts of caregiving

According to the report, the direct economic effect External Site is estimated to be nearly $44 billion through the loss of more than 650,000 jobs and nearly 800,000 caregivers suffering from absenteeism at work. In addition, caregivers were found to have health outcomes 26 percent worse than those who aren't caregivers, as measured by the BCBS Health Index. These negative health outcomes are often associated with the demands of providing care — simply put, caregivers are too busy caring for others to remember to care for themselves.

This impact is felt by a surprisingly large share of the population. According to AARP®, one in six employees in America External Site balance caregiving responsibilities with work, and that number is only expected to grow as our population ages and life expectancy becomes longer.

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With caregiving eating into your employees’ time on the job, it’s likely you’ll see some negative impacts in your workplace. Caregivers are more likely to be distracted during the day or take time off of work to deal with caregiving responsibilities. The Workplace Benefits Report from Bank of America External Site found that employee caregivers miss about 12 hours of work each month while they provide transportation to medical appointments, shop for groceries, manage finances and pay bills for people in their care.

When these employees have to step away from work in an emergency or take a prolonged leave of absence, they leave their coworkers to handle their workload, which can result in additional stress.

Finally, caregivers tend to experience higher levels of stress and chronic health conditions, which can affect your bottom line with increased health care costs. When considering medical costs, turnover, and lost productivity related to absenteeism and presenteeism, caregiving can cost organizations up to $33.6 billion per year External Site.

With a larger share of your employees anticipated to step into a caregiving role in the coming years, it’s important to implement policies and programs that can help support this portion of your workforce. Doing so will not only benefit your bottom line, but improve your employees’ health, enhance workplace loyalty, boost productivity, and allow you to attract and retain the best talent for your organization.

Minimize the challenges of caregiving

Caregiving employees frequently struggle to balance their personal life, work responsibilities, and caregiving duties. Prudential’s Pulse of the American Worker survey revealed nearly half of employee caregivers External Site have to prioritize personal commitments over work a few times a week or more. Employee caregivers also struggle with:

  • Presenteeism
  • Stress, anxiety and depression
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Physical illness
  • Career advancement 

Addressing the gap between providing caregiving support and ensuring your employees use it can make a significant, positive impact on your employees’ productivity in addition to their physical, emotional and financial well-being. Here are just a few ways you can begin to address this growing issue in your organization.

  • Start with your workplace culture. If your workplace isn't considered a safe place for employees to discuss personal topics, you’re less likely to know about potential pain points until its too late and you’re looking for new talent. Get employee input about what support will be most helpful for them and identify ways to implement those offerings. Fostering an inclusive culture is more likely to create an environment where your employees feel supported and empowered to be more productive.
  • Encourage flexible work. Flexible work policies aren’t always a possibility but can bring relief to employees who have substantial responsibilities outside of work hours. Flexible work is more than just allowing employees to work from home. For employee caregivers, you could offer flexible hours outside a typical workday, a shorter work week, or shorter days to allow time for them to coordinate care and appointments. Worried about employees spending less time on the job? Don’t be. Shorter work weeks External Site have actually been shown to reduce burnout and improve productivity. The key is to focus on outcomes, not hours spent at work — longer hours don’t necessarily translate to higher productivity.
  • Promote virtual health care. We know that employee caregivers experience poorer health outcomes due to lack of time spent caring for themselves. You can make it easier for them to get the care they need by promoting a virtual care option. All fully insured groups with Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield have access to Doctor On Demand®, which gives your employees the option to see a board-certified doctor via their phone, tablet or desktop computer.
  • Communicate available benefits. Having the right benefits doesn’t matter if your employees don’t use them. Make sure they know about the offerings that can help them balance caregiving responsibilities with work, like myWellmark® to manage medical claims and help them find care, and BeWell 24/7SM that can assist with coordinating appointments, meal delivery, second opinions on care, and much more. Additionally, many employers offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides childcare and dependent adult care support External Site resources. Stuck on how to communicate your benefits? Head to the Wellmark Marketing Toolkit Secure Site to download marketing materials to help you get started.

Prioritize your employees’ well-being

At Wellmark, we know your business, and we have insights and data on your employees that you may not have in-house. We can serve as an extension of your workforce and provide expertise in creating engaging solutions to meet the unique needs of your organization. Every step of the way, your Wellmark health and well-being consultant will be there as your go-to source for finding the right combination of solutions — because one-size doesn't fit all.

Learn more, get connected and receive a complimentary consultation Opens in a new window with one of our employer health and well-being experts. Once you complete the form, you'll receive a copy of our Well-being that Works guide. From there, we can work with you to determine which workplace well-being solutions fit in with your unique employee population.

Questions? Contact your Wellmark account representative or email us at