In recent years, companies have invested a lot of time and energy into improving company culture. Shiny new fitness centers, break rooms stocked with refreshments and equipped with couches and big screen TVs, flexible work hours, extended vacation time, free meals, educational programs — the list of employee perks and benefits goes on. Companies like Zappos and Google are leading the way in the company culture movement. Zappos even screens prospective employees through a cultural fit interview to ensure they’re the right fit for the company’s culture.
So what’s the motivation behind the company culture frenzy these days? For one, companies seem to be realizing that employees are more than just revenue-producing pawns. Employees want to be valued and treated with respect. The other reason is that employees tend to work harder when they are comfortable with their company’s culture and feel like they are working toward a common goal and vision. In short, great company culture will result in driven employees and increased productivity.
Companies have certainly come a long way in taking care of their employees, but what if there is another factor flying under the radar that can’t be solved in break rooms or fitness centers and is killing workplace productivity? In fact, this responsibility is forcing employees to cut back on work hours, take leaves of absence or, in some cases, even lose their jobs. To top it all off, what if employees felt they had no choice but to take on this responsibility and face it alone?
This employee responsibility that is killing workplace productivity, as studies are revealing, is family caregiving. AARP estimates that 23.9 million employees are providing care for a loved one while working at a paying job. What’s more, a Caregivers in the Workplace study by the University of California at Hastings reported that, “Nearly one in four workers provides eldercare, and half expect do so in the next five years. These numbers will only become more extreme not only as the population ages, but as the workforce ages, given that workers over the age of 55 are those most likely to provide care.”
So how does the prevalence of employee caregiving impact workplace productivity? Here’s just one example:
Joe is 49 and works as a sales manager in Chicago. He has been with his company for seven years and has worked his way up to a mid-level management position. Joe spends his days meeting with prospective customers and managing his team of account management employees.
Toward the end of a hectic week, Joe blocked time out of his schedule to take his 85-year-old mother to her primary care doctor. He had noticed that his mother was moving slower of late and was having a lot of trouble getting around the house. Joe suspected his 90-year-old father wasn’t telling him the full story about his mother’s conditions.
At the doctor’s office, Joe was shocked to learn that his mother had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Unsure of what questions to ask, Joe learned that his mother might have a difficult road ahead of her, especially given her advanced age.
Back at the office, Joe begins researching Parkinson’s specialists. He also worries about his father’s ability to take care of his mother, so Joe begins coming into work later so that he can stop by his parents’ house and check in on them every morning. Joe knows it’s only a matter of time before his mother’s care needs become more than his father can handle, but he has no idea where to look for additional care. Joe fears that his parents will have to move in with his family, adding even more chaos to a home with two teenagers.
Before long, Joe is regularly taking time off of work to care for his mother and he begins to fall behind on many of his team’s sales goals. Joe is still unsure where to turn for help for his mother, and is facing growing pressure from his boss about his lack of productivity at work. The responsibility of caregiving is quickly becoming overwhelming for Joe and costly for his company.
While Joe’s story is a fictional example, studies are revealing that situations like these are very real for many caregivers. Genworth’s Expanding Circle of Care report found that 77 percent of caregivers report missing work in order to provide care for a loved one, while 52 percent report having to work fewer hours, 51 percent feel caregiving had negatively impacted their career and 11 percent report losing their job due to providing care. The report also outlines the financial and physical toll of caregiving: 62 percent of caregivers said they used their own savings or retirement funds to pay for care, and 43 percent of caregivers said caregiving negatively affected their personal health and well-being.
Caregiving cannot be treated as an isolated event, either. Most caregiving events demand a caregiver’s time and energy for years. In fact, a 2015 Caregiving in the U.S. analysis by the National Alliance for Caregiving found that, on average, caregivers of adults have been in their role for four years, with a quarter having provided care for five years or more.
At one point or another, the reality is that everyone will be a caregiver on some level. Whether it’s a child, parent or grandparent needing care, the caregiving responsibility will undoubtedly fall on a family member. This is cause for concern as AARP reports that, “In 2010, the caregiver support ratio was more than 7 potential caregivers for every person in the high-risk years of 80-plus … By 2030, the ratio is projected to decline sharply to 4 to 1; and it is expected to further fall to less than 3 to 1 in 2050, when all (baby) boomers will be in the high-risk years of late life.”
Fewer caregivers with more Americans in the high-risk years of late life inevitably means that more Americans will find their work lives colliding with their caregiving responsibilities. The problem is employers have been lagging behind the times when it comes to providing support for their employee caregivers.
Cynthia Calvert, senior advisor for the Center for WorkLife Law at UC Hastings suggests, “Employees’ expectations that they should be able to care for their family members, raise their children, and support their parents, frequently collide with employers’ expectations that employees will be ‘ideal workers’ — those who can work full-time, full-force for 40 years or more with no time off for childbearing, childrearing, or other caregiving. Although few such workers exist today, the structure and norms of the workplace still exist as if they predominate.”
The evidence is furthered by the NAC’s findings that only 23 percent of working caregivers say their employers offer employee assistance programs or telecommuting to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities. At the same time, 84 percent of caregivers state they could use more information or help on caregiving topics, 25 percent say it is very difficult to get affordable services in their loved one’s community that would help with their care, and 22 percent would like additional information about making end-of-life decisions.
The bottom line is that employee caregivers need support. Studies are proving that the responsibility of caring for an aging loved one is overwhelming employees who are already juggling a full-time job and family activities of their own. And this ugly truth about caregiving is killing workplace productivity.