Torchlight's VP of Product, Carolyn Romano, shares her moving, personal story with BenefitPro and offers five (5) tips for supporting employee caregivers. You can read the entire article below, or read it on the publication's website here.
Seventy percent of working caregivers report work-related difficulties due to their dual roles, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving. That’s more than six million people who say it’s hard—and stressful—to be an employee and a caregiver to a family member at the same time.
I can attest to the truth of that statement. I am one of the 70 percent. And I am also just like many of the over 18,000 users whose stories and data are captured in Torchlight’s recent report Modern Caregiving Challenges Facing U.S. Employees. This is my story.
It was November 19, 2015, a long day at work filled with back-to-back meetings, each one adding more to my expanding to-do list. As I was walking to my car that chilly night, all I could think about was getting home. I sat for a moment waiting for my car to warm up and glanced at my phone. That’s when I saw it:
Nine missed calls. All from my sister.
My heart started pounding. I knew immediately that something was wrong. My hands shook as I called my sister. Sure enough, something was very wrong. My mom had been rushed to the hospital. She needed emergency surgery for a brain aneurysm that had been slowly bleeding for several days.
In the weeks that followed, my mom was my first priority. I jumped into my role as caregiver and set out to navigate the challenges associated with her diagnosis and medical care, including planning for long-term-care needs, understanding complex legal documents, and managing family dynamics. Users shared many of these same issues in our report. Like the 60 percent of caregiving profiles that reported “medical issues” as a concern, I, too, was concerned with my mom’s diagnosis and what to expect, especially since she didn’t have any of the risk factors associated with her type of aneurysm.
But, before any of us could consider her prognosis, we first had a host of here-and-now challenges to work through while she was in the hospital. I coordinated schedules with my family to ensure three weeks of round-the-clock coverage in the Neurology ICU. During that time, we also rode the emotional roller coaster of health care proxies (were hers signed?), living wills (did she want to be kept alive by artificial means if it came to that?), and end-of-life issues (what if she didn’t survive?). These same elder-care questions were among the top ten pressing problems that users in our report were looking to solve.
Once she was home, we had to address home and personal safety issues as well as activities of daily living. Could she be by herself? How would she get her groceries when she wasn’t cleared to drive? Could we really make sure our active mom didn’t lift anything over ten pounds? These considerations are likely quite familiar to Torchlight users, 88 percent of whom report caring for a loved one who is “aging in place.” And, to be sure, resolving these types of day-to-day challenges are often made more difficult for the 39 percent of employee who, like me, are long-distance caregivers handling additional considerations, such as travel time and expense or child care.
An employer’s support can make all the difference
While all this caregiving was going on, I was still an employee with a “real” job, one that typically required more than the requisite eight hours a day. I still had to balance my mom’s care with work commitments, and I was concerned about how to meet deadlines, manage deliverables, and lead a busy team. Which is why right after hanging up the phone with my sister that life-changing night, I called my boss: “Adam, my mom needs surgery. I have to leave for New York right away.” His reply, “Take care of your family. We’ve got you covered.”
Nine supportive words. All from my boss.
I was – and still am – grateful for those words and for my boss’s support so I could do what I needed for my mom and for me. As a result, I am fiercely loyal to my employer and to the work we do. I experienced firsthand the difference it makes when an employer has the right culture, policies, and practices in place to support employees and their families.
5 ways to gain the loyalty of your employee caregivers
If you’re interested in supporting your employees and increasing their sense of loyalty, it’s easier than you might think. You just need to make sure you have these five, caregiving-forward strategies available when their inevitable family crisis occurs.
1. Offer flexible work schedules and locations. A range of flex-time options can make all the difference for an employee in a caregiving crisis. Consider changes to regular hours, shift swaps, and telecommuting, to name just a few ways to meet your workforce needs.
2. Cultivate executive support. Many of the folks on the top rungs of the corporate ladder are now at an age where they are caring for their own aging parents. When you approach them, chances are high that they will buy in to the caregiving goals you are driving and lend their support.
3. Provide access to caregiving support that meets the needs of a multigenerational workforce. The caregiving benefits your company offers have to address the breadth and depth of caregiving issues employees face today. And they must be delivered in the right format, at the right time, and in the right way.
4. Establish work coverage plans. Have your staff develop plans—in advance of the need—that detail how each employee’s job responsibilities would be covered during a long absence; review and update them on a regular basis.
5. Create a supportive workplace culture. In this area, you’ll want to build awareness about the issues caregivers face; understand that caregivers don’t always self-identify, recognize the stigma often associated with caregiving (and dispel any stereotypes); and adopt and share caregiver-friendly policies.
It’s not a question of whether your employees will have a family crisis; it’s just a matter of when. In fact, this situation with my mom brings my caregiving count to four, and it will only go up from here. I’m not unique; plenty of us employees (perhaps even you yourself) are dealing with caregiving challenges and need assistance. With the above strategies in place, that number of increasingly grateful, loyal people YOU have helped will give you the retention metrics upon which care-eers and companies are built.