It’s never an easy topic to approach, but it’s an epidemic that must be addressed by companies and employees alike. As people live longer and reach later stages of life, they encounter more illnesses that require care. Right now, there are 5.7 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s, a number expected to reach 14 million by 2050. Over 70,000 people in Colorado have Alzheimer’s, and there are more with other long-term diseases like cancer, dementia, and Parkinson’s.

What happens when 40% of adults 65 and older need assistance with the activities of daily living? Most get help from their loved ones. In fact, 83% of help provided to older adults comes from family members, friends, or other unpaid helpers. That equates to 1 in 6 working Americans who are also caregivers. Whether you’re managing employee caregivers in your business or you are one, there are ways to make the best of the situation.

How Businesses Can Better Support Employee Caregivers

18.4 billion hours of care has been provided by family and other unpaid caregivers in the U.S. These individuals are under extreme emotional, financial, and physical pressure as they balance their jobs with attending doctor appointments, visiting support groups, taking classes, and other activities. This often happens after a full day of work, on lunch breaks, or even before the workday starts, stretching them thin. Regardless of the life-changing disease, more corporate boardrooms are struggling with the delicate topic of employee caregivers.

A superb 52-page guide from the AARP and ReACT provides invaluable advice, recommending employers focus on three activities: understanding their employer caregiver population, creating a supportive culture, and normalizing elder caregiving through communication. Based on that mentality, there are a number of activities a business can undertake to retain employee caregivers while supporting their life outside of work.

Flexibility is paramount. Many employee activities, especially for technologists, can be done remotely. See if a remote working schedule helps your employee caregiver meet the needs of their relative while maintaining productivity. Understand that they may need a day off when a health complication arises or perhaps just to participate in something like the Rocky Mountain Conference on Dementia this April. Furthermore, your company must be familiar with what laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mean for your legal obligations to employees. You may already be obligated to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, depending on the circumstances.

Connecting with local charities or groups (such as the Alzheimer’s Association of Colorado) as a company can also be a big step forward. Normalizing illness conversations and educating staff on what your organization offers for employee caregivers can make employees more comfortable in their newfound caregiver roles.

There are many specific examples of what top organizations do to further support employee caregivers:

  • Deloitte allows up to 16 weeks of paid time off annually for caregiving and provides an employee assistance program that features consultations and referrals.
  • Eli Lilly and Company has an Eldercare Support Group for employees. They bring in expert speakers and offer several workshops and webinars per year.
  • Fannie Mae conducted a survey and found that 70% of their workforce were currently caregivers or were expecting to become one soon. In response, they retained the services of an onsite eldercare consultant.
  • Pfizer provides a backup dependent care program that offers up to 10 days of in-home help for employees at a discounted rate of $6 per hour.
  • Bank of America offers assessments from senior care managers and up to four free legal consultations per year.

How Employee Caregivers Can Approach Their Employer

It can be overwhelming to suddenly hear about a loved one’s dreaded diagnosis. There is so much baggage that comes along with words like “cancer” or “Alzheimer’s” that it’s important to get educated by doctors, understand how your loved one will be treated, and learn what is required from you to facilitate the best quality of life for your relative. As you color in the picture of what being a caregiver means for you, discussing the plan with your employer is crucial.

After all, with the lifetime cost of caring for an individual with dementia at $341,840, few people can afford to quit their job to care for a loved one. It’s important to recognize you are not alone in balancing caregiving and work. 49% of employee caregivers have gone to work late, left early, or taken time off; it simply comes with the territory. Have an open conversation with whoever you are comfortable with, whether that’s your immediate supervisor or an HR rep. Bring to the table whatever ideas you have for making your new life work, but know you don’t have to have all the answers upfront. The best employers understand and will be open to creating a long-term plan that works for everyone.

The Employee Caregiver Experience

Whether you run a business or are focused on your career, health must be a priority. This can only happen when employees and employers come together to form a mutual understanding of the importance of caregiving. By having tough conversations, maintaining an open mind, and doing what it takes to find the right balance, our loved ones can receive the care they truly need.

If you or a loved one are dealing with Alzheimer’s and are seeking additional resources, we highly recommend connecting with your local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Written: January 2019