As an HR professional working with many senior care agencies, I have found my attention focused with increasing frequency on the impact of family caregiving in the workplace. According to a recent report by the Harvard Business School (HBS), “American companies are facing a caregiving crisis [but] they refuse to acknowledge it.” This powerful statement illustrates how many employers are oblivious to the demographic trends, the impact on their employees and, ultimately, the price their organization is already paying because of their ignorance. 

Family caregivers remain below the radar but their numbers are hard to ignore.

Childcare is still the biggest caregiving obligation for most adults. The rising cost of childcare and the explosion in complex health diagnoses affecting more children, the impact of childcare on workers hasn’t declined despite a decrease in fertility rates.

On the other end of the care spectrum is the aging population and the rise in the numbers of “sandwich” caregivers: still caring for children and increasingly taxed by their aging parents. One in four workers are family caregivers. According to AARP, 42% of workers have provided care for an aging relative or friend in the past five years. About half of the workforce expects to be providing eldercare in the next five years. Because of the growing population of older adults, this trend is not likely to change. In fact, the number of workers expected to provide eldercare is likely to grow, and grow sharply

Employers do not know who their caregiving employees are.

They do not measure their “care demographics” and do not know the impact caregiving responsibilities have on their workforce. The HBS study suggests to evaluate:

  • Number of employees affected by caregiving 
  • Type of caregiving affecting employees. 
    • Are they dealing with childcare? How old are the children? 
    • Are they dealing with eldercare? 
    • Are there health conditions associated with those family members? Think chronic conditions (diabetes, COPD) and cognitive impairments (autism, dementia). 

Because employers do not conduct a care census, they are not attuned to the changing needs of their workforce.

Employers often offer solutions for the birth or adoption of a child. New solutions will have to be created to support family caregivers for the elderly. The demand for elder care is rising as the population ages and the intensity of the care increases with longer life expectancies.


What is the cost of ignoring family caregivers at work?

The HBS study reminds employers that there is a “price of indifference” to the plight of family caregivers. Most employers underestimate the cost to their business brought by family caregiving through:

  • Higher turnover: one third of employees quit a job because of family caregiving responsibilities. This disproportionately affects women. It also increasingly impacts senior employees who have the most institutional knowledge and are highly skilled. Those losses are hard to replace.
  • Productivity loss: caregiving undermines employees’ ability to do their best work impacted by late arrival, the need to address care-related issues while at work, even to manage emergency health events.


Create New Solutions

  • Recognize the predictable nature of caregiving and create a framework to support family caregivers. The care needs of employees predictably shift as they progress through stages of life. Younger workers are more likely to be parents and have childcare needs. Older workers are more likely to provide to care to their aging parents. 
  • Rethink the benefits offered to employees. On the of the most important findings of the HBS study is the realization that employers misunderstand what benefits employees value. What employers offer is misaligned with what employees want. The investment made goes unused and under-valued by employees. In turn, this skews employers’ perception that employees do not need support with their caregiving responsibilities. For example, 92% of employers perceive subsidies for elder care services as the most sought-after benefit. However, 78% of employees would rather have access to a referral service to identify senior caregivers.

The challenges of balancing work and family responsibilities are here to stay. It’s time to look at solutions your organization can develop to accommodate their needs while keeping the business running. Start small, listen to employees (current, past and future caregivers), learn and adjust.