August 18, 2017
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Five signs your employee needs caregiver support

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
July 28, 2017

Caring for an older adult could be taking a toll on your employee that might jeopardize productivity and risk the loss of an otherwise excellent worker. Here are five signs that caregiving could be putting your employee at risk.

Stress and depression – “I felt helpless,” said one working caregiver. “I’m sad a lot and that makes me tired and then I don’t want to work,” lamented another. In a survey of working family caregivers of older adults, conducted by Home Instead, Inc., 42 percent report caregiving making them depressed. If you’re observing stress and depression in your employee caring for an elderly family member, one of the best ways to help is to connect that individual with your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program) resources. Or ask your Human Resources department to help your staff member under stress.

Vulnerability to Illness – A Gallup study of working family caregivers caring for older adults, released in 2011, found that caregivers are 50 percent more likely to experience daily physical pain than non-caregivers and are 35 to 50 percent more likely to experience chronic recurring pain. Working caregivers also reported a 25 percent higher incidents of high blood pressure. In the Home Instead Senior Care survey, 53 percent of respondents say caregiving makes it harder for them to take care of themselves. Give your working family caregivers opportunities to keep regularly scheduled doctor check-ups and appointments. If your company has a wellness program, encourage participation in that.

Fatigue – “I feel guilty for not spending enough time with her and being too tired to visit,” explained an employed caregiver. Another simply said, “I’m tired.” While you can’t control your employees’ sleeping schedules, recognize that fatigue is a common challenge facing many family caregivers. Modeling healthy habits and encouraging your employee will show your concern. Consider how valuable it could be to an employee who has been awake since 4 a.m. with a loved one to have a later work start time.

Inability to focus – Fatigue and stress could conspire to make it difficult to focus. “It’s like swimming in Jell-O,” one caregiver explained. “I love my mom and my job, but I’m not able to give enough to either. I feel like I have failed both.” It can be demoralizing or potentially embarrassing for a family caregiver to be unable to focus on a job. If possible, consider opportunities to allow your employees to recharge, such as team lunches and webinars, or extra PTO (Paid Time Off).

Guilt – “You never feel like you’re giving enough to anyone.” That’s an oft-repeated dilemma of the working family caregiver. Another working caregiver summed it up this way: “No matter what I did or how much, it was never enough.” “I feel trapped and guilty,” another caregiver said. The guilt of feeling as though they are spread too thin could leave caregivers constantly frustrated. If your employee is showing signs of guilt, provide a safe environment where they can share their challenges. Then help them to develop a plan to better cope with their stress.

Look for ways to help your employees stay physically, emotionally and mentally healthy.

Employers give a variety of reasons for implementing employee and family assistance initiatives. According to the 2016 National Study of Employers (NSE) released by SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management), those reasons range from retaining employees (the top reason) to it’s the right thing to do

If you’re looking strictly at the bottom line, though there are business benefits of instituting polices such as flextime, eldercare resources, vacation and telework or telecommuting options.

According to Determining the Return on Investment – Supportive Policies for Family Caregivers, evidence supports the business case for offering such benefits that allow caregivers to balance their jobs with other responsibilities, such as flextime and telework. For instance, this report found that for every dollar invested in flextime, businesses can expect a return of between $1.70 and $4.34. And for every dollar invested in telecommuting, the return is between $2.46 and $4.45.

Drew Holzapfel, convener for ReACT (Respect a Caregiver’s Time), who sponsored the study with AARP, said changing cultures begins at the top with support from management.

“When the CEO believes in it, there’s a trickle-down effect. However, regardless of how important and necessary are the policies, benefit delivery can break down between the employee and the front-line manager.  When we’ve done focus groups, it’s easy to get employee caregivers to come, but harder to get the front-line managers there. Some are in denial; others don’t want to see it.”

Surprisingly, oftentimes employees don’t even know what their company offers in the way of family-friendly benefits, Holzapfel said. “When we look at utilization of benefits, that rate is very low,” he said. “Employees either don’t know their benefit options or they don’t realize how to use their benefits, such as being able to activate the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA),” he noted. (While eldercare leave is not specifically required by the federal FMLA, “family leave for seriously ill family members” is.)

Regardless, some companies are doing creative things including Skype doctor appointments. There are pockets of innovation and an increasing reliance on technology to help us manage care more efficiently. Ask your health care provider what they may offer in this way. Large health care providers such as Kaiser offer apps on your smartphones to help manage your appointments, medications and wellness reminders.


Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’s love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.