Gen Xers now occupy the most leadership roles globally. But this generation also brings a unique set of challenges to the workplace. Employees born between the early 1960s and 1980 increasingly need to look after their children as well as their aging parents. They’re known as the “sandwich generation” and according to the Pew Center for Research, account for almost half of adults in their 40s and 50s.
Caregiving is becoming a big workplace trend. The Caregiving and the Workplace: Employer Benchmarking Survey conducted by Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH) and AARP in 2017 indicates that 30 percent of Americans currently care for a family member—and they’re spending an average of 20 hours each week caregiving.
This combined with ever-lowering unemployment levels in the US, means that companies need to update their benefits packages to address the needs of caregivers. According to the NEBGH report, 84 percent of companies believe that during the next five years caregiving will become an increasingly important issue for their company.
Here are some benefits that are particularly valued to those caring for families:
Paid time off
Clearly, if your company can offer paid family leave—this is a significant help, particularly during family emergencies. Deloitte recently implemented a new paid family leave program in response to these changing demographic shifts.
“For the people who really need to take advantage of family leave, it can make an astounding difference in their lives,” said David Pollock whose paid leave policy at Deloitte allowed him to stay in the hospital with his wife and be by her side for her final days of stage four lung cancer. Adobe has also added this benefit, offering employees up to four weeks of paid leave to care for a sick family member.
Health and disability insurance
As you build out your benefits program, make sure you include disability insurance alongside health insurance. Also known as “paycheck insurance,” it protects an employee’s ability to earn part of their salary if they need to miss work due to illness, injury, or pregnancy.
For a caregiver who is responsible for the lives of others, it’s critical that they can continue to earn an income if they unexpectedly need to miss work for qualifying health reasons. It also means that HR teams don’t need to have that heart-breaking conversation once the employee’s paid leave or sick days run out.
Not all companies can afford to offer a generous benefits policy. But flexibility is a true gift for employees who may need to balance numerous conflicting schedules—whether it’s the ability to leave a little earlier to get to the hospital or to work from home remotely for a period of time. Offering flexibility with work schedules and locations is a boon for all workers. In Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace, 51 percent of employees said they would change jobs for one that offers them flexible work time.
Some companies are opting to bring the care itself to the workplace. Patagonia offers a childcare facility on-site at its headquarters in Ventura, CA, as well as a distribution center in Reno, NV. The company fronts 25 percent of the costs with employees paying the rest unless they qualify for stipends.
Rick Ridgeway, the company’s vice president of public engagement explained at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in New Orleans, that the costs were quickly covered by the rise in employee retention and engagement. It also has made the company a magnet for new hires. “Another benefit is the higher rates of employee recruitment,” he said. “We have a lot more people applying because of these policies.”
Don’t underestimate the power of being a caring company, and offering employee support. The NEBGH survey revealed that “caregivers generally abandon their own physical and emotional needs while caring for others”.
Offer counseling services or train up your HR teams to guide caregivers to local resources, such as geriatric assessments and elder care options. AARP outlines several excellent strategies that workplaces can fairly easily put into action, such as organizing affinity groups for caregivers, creating quiet spaces where people can take calls during the day, or simply making sure that the words “working caregivers” appear alongside words like “working parents” in company documents.
As the writer of the AARP article sums it up, “People caring for older loved ones step up every day. In order for caregivers to thrive in their jobs, they need their employers to step up, too.”