You Have A Caregiver Crisis. Get Started Addressing It.

Holding hands

By Adam Goldberg, CEO, Torchlight 

There are more than 53 million caregivers in the United States. Look around the conference room – or your next Zoom call – and there are caregivers among the group. Maybe you’re even one of them, among the invisible frontline holding things down at home for loved ones. 

Or maybe that number seems shocking to you because, as a nation, we’ve historically defined “caregiver” rather myopically. A caregiver is anyone who financially and emotionally supports another person. By that definition, a caregiver could be caring for an elderly parent or a parent responsible for a child with disability. 

In other words, most of us are caregivers at some point in our lives. The crisis, however, has been amplified in many ways because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So many households have been impacted by the virus, with workers having to take time off to care for loved ones with the virus. 

But, something else has happened – and there’s no turning back for businesses. With the arrival of the delta variant, plans have been altered or scrapped for workers to return to the office. Remote work has eliminated the barrier that existed between professional and personal. For employees, its emboldened; rather than a nice to have, they demand empathy from employers. 

If you haven’t already, the time is now to shift to a culture of caring. 

Building a Culture that Embraces Your People 

It wasn’t that long ago that most human resources teams did the bidding of the executive team, i.e. “doing what’s best for the business.” Over the last 10 years, however, businesses have had to evolve in their thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion, the me too movement and treatment of women in the workplace, and maternity and paternity benefits. Now, it’s time to give the same attention to benefits and protections for caregivers. 

These cultural shifts have forced all of us to rethink our human capital strategies. Empathy is now a business differentiator. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of our people: the senior engineer who is unplugged at work because her father has COVID-19, the product marketer whose mother was laid off and is struggling to keep the household together, or the vice president of customer success who is caring for her sick father who requires extra care and time to take him back and forth to doctors’ appointments. 

Create a culture now that embraces your employees, enabling them to open up and, even more important, having the programs to help them. Like any strategic initiative that requires creating new muscle memory, a culture of caring starts with defining the policies and procedures that serve as guardrails for the organization. 

Your employees need clear guidance on where you stand. The role you are going to play for caregivers – no matter how big or small – needs to be clearly communicated throughout your organization. While times have changed and more companies are either fully onboard with helping with the caregiving crisis facing their workforce or evolving their thinking on it, that has to be regularly communicated and championed. Take some time to articulate your company’s position and then draft or update your policy on employee-caregiver support as well as your policies on attendance, leave, flexible work, compensation (including bonuses), recruitment, hiring, promotion, discipline, and termination. 

A culture of caring starts at the top 

Once the processes and policies are in place, it’s up to your executives to set the tone. Many of the demands of caregiving take place during the “typical” work day. It’s when Mom’s doctor finally calls, or Melissa’s teacher reaches out at last to discuss challenging behaviors at school. Your executives need to be bought in on why the company is prioritizing caregiving and understand that the broader philosophy around caregiving is a differentiator. Lack of executive sponsorship can be the death knell of even the most worthy corporate initiatives. Therefore, it is wise to find out who are your corporate caregiving champions at the top of the corporate ladder. 

Managers,too, play an important role in providing a consistent presence between the company and employee on how to assist the caregivers they support. Not only should managers be aware of the prevalence of nondisclosure of caregiving status, they should also know well the range of supports your company offers and when to use them. Offer professional development in these areas as well as in helping them understand and manage their own unconscious biases, e.g., how they feel about pregnant or nursing employees, people from different cultures, family leave,  “proper” work habits, “what it takes” to get a job done, etc.

Done right, such a cultural shift will be uncomfortable – but stick with it. You have the power as a people leader to drive change and create a culture of caring.  With a thoughtful strategy in place, you will be amazed by the benefits to both your employees and your company’s bottom line when you show just how much you and your company care.