Caregiving benefits gain traction, even before pandemic
April 16, 2020
As millions of employees are faced with balancing work with caregiving responsibilities, companies are increasingly prioritizing benefits to help them do so.
The trend started before the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new survey by the Northeast Business Group on Health. However, additional efforts are needed to help employers avoid higher health care costs and lower productivity.
Nearly 80% of survey respondents said they believed caregiving would be an increasingly important issue for the foreseeable future. The survey compiled feedback from 117 mostly large U.S. employers and was conducted in late 2019 and early 2020. About one-third of participants were organizations based in or near the city.
Though close to half of respondents felt they were on par with similar organizations in developing caregiving benefits, about a quarter viewed themselves as below or well below average—"a clear sign there is much room for improvement," NEBGH said.
"Caregiving is becoming an increasingly important issue, and it will become even more important over the next five years," said Candice Sherman, CEO of NEBGH. That's due in part to a rapidly aging population, millennial workers who take care of both parents and children, and gaps in the health care system for people who are ill and aging but not yet ready to enter a nursing home or other facility.
"I do think the current crisis has underlined the need for employers to be thinking about how to support their employee caregivers," Sherman added.
Data show that employees who shoulder caregiver responsibilities are more apt to have chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, as well as mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, she said. And companies are more often recognizing that it is difficult for people to care for themselves while caring for others, which can lead to burdens on employers, such as higher health care costs.
The vast majority of survey respondents—91%—recognized that caregivers may abandon self-care, a 17% increase from a study in 2017, NEBGH said. At the same time, though more than half of respondents thought their C-suite-level executives were supportive of caregiving policies—a 14% increase from 2017—nearly 40% were not sure how supportive the C-suite would be. The latter group believed that building a strong business case for caregiving benefits would be needed to secure leadership buy-in.
Other findings from the survey were that more employers are providing paid leave specifically for caregiving, and increasing leave for caregiving and implementing flexible work arrangements were at the top of benefit managers' wish lists.
The environment for recruiting and retaining valuable employees is competitive, Sherman said. "People were really looking to see the kinds of benefits companies were offering," she said. "I also think it's helpful to understand that, even in an environment in which companies are stressed financially, there certainly are things they can do to help employees balancing caregiving."
That may include low-cost offerings such as flexible work hours, the ability to work from home, virtual employee support groups to exchange tips and best practices, and even simple guidance as to what resources are available in the community, Sherman said.
"The crisis has socially distanced people, and that means that more people are trying to figure out how to get care for loved ones who they cannot physically get close to," she added. "I would imagine there are innovators who would really be thinking about more tools and technology to help people do that."
Robert Stephen, vice president of caregiving and health at AARP, also noted the importance of employer support for caregivers, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Employers are a valuable source of information for caregivers to stay connected to and a source of potential benefits, he said.
AARP provided financial support for the NEBGH survey and earlier this month launched a portal for caregivers looking for additional resources during the pandemic.
Though AARP has focused on support for caregivers for decades, when the coronavirus hit, it realized things were going to shift a great deal, Stephen said.
Some of the areas of work have been self-care, guidance on loved ones in nursing homes and long-term-care facilities, and telehealth temporarily covered in part by Medicare, he said. Additionally, he said he believes the pandemic may lend greater awareness to some of the day-to-day challenges caregivers face.
Those can include feeling isolating and experiencing financial woes during normal times, Sherman said.
"Caregiving will only become more important over the years to come," she said. "We think about it as the tip of the iceberg." —Jennifer Henderson