The caregiving crisis – and how talent leaders can help

It’s imperative that HR leaders feel empowered to research and recognize that caregiving is a more prevalent issue than ever before.

The Great Resignation has become a popular catchphrase for all the wrong reasons. According to Microsoft’s “Work Trend Index 2021” report, 41 percent of workers are considering quitting their jobs because they feel overworked and exhausted. Many of those are among the 20 percent of American workers providing unpaid care to a loved one who is aging or who has special needs, so it should be no surprise that many companies are recognizing this trend in their own ranks.

Nearly 70 percent of employees hide their caregiving responsibilities from their employers. As the ongoing pandemic exacerbates this crisis, it’s becoming more commonplace to talk about it; work-from-home has provided a window into employee responsibilities outside the office, removing the stigma and providing some relief. Some HR leaders have admitted to me they didn’t realize how many of their colleagues were caregivers until they experienced it themselves and shared their own stories.

Caregiving for a loved one who is aging or who has special needs can create a tremendous disruption to daily life, both personally and professionally. Often, those caring for a family member don’t self-identify as a “caregiver;” they think of themselves as a spouse, child or grandchild simply lending a helping hand. The caregiver toils to provide for the physical, emotional and mental needs of their loved one, often during work hours, while continuing with other responsibilities. Caregivers frequently neglect their own care and well-being. In fact, 21 percent of caregivers reported their own health as “fair to poor.” This isn’t sustainable for anyone, particularly those working full-time.

The caregiving load can create a significant mental health issue that’s often overlooked. The strain can lead to an increased likelihood of depression because employees aren’t taking care of themselves physically or emotionally while caring for another. The employee’s work performance may suffer, and the employee may become withdrawn. Ironically, it’s more expensive to provide health care for an employee focused on the health and well-being of another loved one. 

Women as caregivers

Women often take on the responsibility of family caregiving. For employers who value diversity and inclusion, this is a meaningful topic to address because it affects female colleagues so acutely. Nearly 70 percent of unpaid caregivers for adults are women. There’s a heightened sensitivity and awareness to lessen the loss of some of their female employees who carry the brunt of those caregiving responsibilities. A recent McKinsey “Women in the Workplace report found one in four women were considering leaving the workforce due to responsibilities at home.

The needed solution

Providing a childcare benefit alone doesn’t solve the problem. Employers should have the same urgency to support employees caring for older loved ones with a caregiving benefit. In the 1930s, the concept that a manufacturing firm would allow maternity and paternity leave was unheard of. It’s now part of the daily fabric of our work lives.

There are many progressive businesses doing their part because leadership gets it. The reverse is also true; many companies follow rather than lead. Some are taking a more conservative approach and falling behind, both in retaining key, valuable employees and in recruiting new talent, particularly competitive potential hires who value the types of benefits being offered by their employer and what those benefits reveal about an employer’s values and work culture.

The great news is the conversation around caregiver support as an employee benefit is getting more oxygen and visibility. This isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s a need-to-have benefit that truly supports the well-being of your team.