Harvard Study: 3 in 4 US Workers Say Caregiving Responsibilities Affect Their Productivity

Harvard Study: 3 in 4 US Workers Say Caregiving Responsibilities Affect Their Productivity

In recent years, business leaders have become increasingly aware of the caregiving burdens affecting their employees’ lives and, by extension, their organizations. At the same time millennials, who make up the largest generational cohort in the workforce, are settling down and starting families, the baby boomer generation is aging and imposing additional elder care responsibilities on their gen-X and millennial children. In recognition of this burden, many progressive organizations have expanded their leave and flexibility offerings for employees with family caregiving responsibilities, but not all employees enjoy these benefits, particularly in the US, where there is no statutory parental leave entitlement.

A major new report from Harvard Business School underscores the significant toll this caregiving burden places on employees’ productivity, which employers may be underestimating. In their report, The Caring Company, Harvard Business School professor Joseph Fuller and Manjari Raman, program director of the school’s Young American Leaders Program, surveyed 1,500 employees and 300 HR leaders to gauge the impact of caregiving responsibilities on workers’ performance, the extent to which employers recognize this effect, the benefits employers are offering to help employees manage these obligations, and how these benefits are being used.

Some of the report’s key findings include:

  • 80 percent of employees with caregiving responsibilities said caregiving affected their productivity, but only 24 percent of employers thought caregiving influenced performance, and 52 percent of employers don’t measure the extent of their employees’ caregiving burdens. Employers recognize, however, that work issues such as unplanned absences, late arrivals and early departures from work — which often arise as a result of caregiving obligations — negatively affect employees’ career progression.
  • 32 percent of all employees said they had voluntarily left a job during their career due to caregiving responsibilities. The impact is particularly acute among millennial employees: 50 percent of employees aged 26-35 and 27 percent of employees aged 18-25 said they had already left a job due to caregiving responsibilities.
  • Among those who had left a job, 57 percent said they had done so to take care of a newborn or adopted child, 49 percent to care for a sick child, 43 percent to manage a child’s needs, 32 percent to take care of an elder family member, and nearly 25 percent left to take care of an ill or disabled family member. The most common reasons they gave for leaving their jobs were that they could not find or afford paid help, or because they were unable to meet their work responsibilities and provide care at the same time.

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‘UK Employers Must Take Better Care of Caregivers’

‘UK Employers Must Take Better Care of Caregivers’

As the Baby Boomers age into their golden years, their adult children are taking on an increasing burden of caring for their elderly relatives. In the UK, NHS advisor Paul Gaudin writes at the CIPD, this burden is becoming heavier as state-funded elder care has become less generous. As we know, caring for a senior citizen can be very challenging, and trying to juggle these responsibilities along with a full-time job puts a strain on employees’ mental and physical health. This situation, Gaudin says, puts the onus on British employers to do more to support the growing number of workers who shoulder caregiving responsibilities, as only 9 percent currently include such support in their rewards packages:

There are practical ways that employers can help the ‘squeezed middle’ who are increasingly faced with the challenge of suddenly becoming carers, paired with a bewildering world of worry and frustration in trying to understand how it’s possible to work with such a disconnected model. For many, the answer is to rush to organise a place at a residential care home, which, given the cuts, now costs an average of £30,000 a year. Despite the severity of the issues and potential impact on employees, there is a hole in terms of benefits offerings. Research from think tank IPPR has found that only 9 per cent of employers offer anything around eldercare in their rewards packages.

There’s also a need for specialist financial support and advice on planning – advice that is personal, specific and face-to-face. One basic option is to offer subsidised health insurance for older family members, although this type of insurance can be prohibitively expensive. Telehealth – providing video access to healthcare professionals and health data – is being seen by employers as one way of cutting absence and the time taken by employees over hospital and other routine appointments. But it’s also a useful time-saving approach for staff who don’t have time to sit in traffic and waiting rooms. Employers can help simply by promoting the option, and providing the required IT, as well as a ‘telehealth space’ for private conversations.

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