How Companies Can Be More Caregiver-Friendly

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By Stephanie Chan

As employers, it is beneficial to have wellness programs to promote a healthy workforce.  Employers should acknowledge that employees who are also caregivers wear many hats outside of the office, from cook, cleaner, financial planner, driver, advocate and care attendant just to name a few. En masse, they are the sandwich generation.

The sandwich generation of people are those who are both raising children and providing care of their aging parents. According to Statistics Canada, around three in 10 adults are sandwiched between child and eldercare responsibilities. The majority of these people are employed full-time, and their numbers are only growing; so too are their stresses.

When an employee is stretched thin between competing responsibilities, it can be a great source of stress. At work, good and flexible work policies can provide stress relief to employees. Research has shown that employees who are less stressed are more productive in the workforce.

Warning Signs of Stressed Employees
Employees may attempt to conceal their stress, so it’s not always easy to detect a stressed employee, especially if they are high functioning. Some warning signs that an employee is a stressed caregiver may include:

  • Decline in work productivity and quality;
  • Changes in demeanour—looking tired or irritable;
  • Increased time off, increased sick days;
  • Coming in late to work or leaving early on a more frequent basis than usual;
  • Lots of personal phone calls during the work day, usually in relation to medical appointments or other matters to do with caregiving; and
  • Unavailability to travel for work.

Implementing More Caregiver-friendly Programs and Policies
Every company has its own policy-making processes and culture, but here are some suggestions to increase the success of your new caregiver-friendly programs:

  • Involve a cross-section of your employees on a committee or task force, and include senior management. Something that is developed with employee input will likely result in something that is relevant and applicable to the workforce. Also, seeing that it is supported by senior management will boost morale as it shows that they care about their employees;
  • Poll your employees. Do you actually know what percentage of your employees are in fact ‘sandwich generation’ caregivers? Do you know what issues are important to them?
  • Have the committee come up with prioritized ideas with timelines and a budget; and
  • Develop a rollout plan including how the new programs and policies will be communicated to the employees.

Key Components of Caregiver-friendly Programs and Policies
Health and wellness programs can be part of a broader company strategy for a healthy workplace. A good wellness program might contribute the following:

  • Stress management techniques for employees: Teach employees ways to better manage their time and stress, teaching stress relief techniques.
  • Promote fitness, well-being and health to prevent mental health issues and disease: Caregiver self-care is one of the most important principles of caregiving.
  • Provide access to counselling or experts: The ability to have someone to talk to or receive advice from will significantly accelerate a person along the learning curve and allow them to resolve issues quicker. Bring in an expert for a lunch hour seminar, or have someone available through your EAP provider. Alternatively, and even better, provide ongoing training to your employees about various aspects regarding caregiving.
  • Provide Resources: Providing informational resources can be a lifesaver for employees by saving them the time and energy of seeking them out themselves, thus reducing the amount of stress they might experience. Create a resource library for your employees, or start including caregiving information in your employee newsletters.
  • Provide Flex Time: Much of caregiving involves appointments and tasks that have to be attended to during normal business hours. Allowing some flexibility in working hours will go a long way in reducing employee stress.  Companies can also allow employees to take days off which don’t have to be characterized as sick days or vacation days, so that they can attend to caregiving responsibilities.
  • Start a support group: Caregivers experience a range of common issues and a lot can be learned from someone who has already gone through the same experience. Provide a forum for employees who are caregivers to learn from each other.
  • Host a Wellness Fair: Bring together a group of people who represent all aspects of wellness and allow your employees to have access to all of them onsite in one day.

The ways that employers can support sandwich generation employees are truly endless.  HR managers are poised to spearhead caregiving-friendly programs which are going to be one of the most important workplace issues in the next decade as retirement trends accelerate.

Stephanie Chan is an eldercare advisor and transition planner, helping seniors and families make informed choices regarding senior living. Stephanie founded and operates Home to Home, a care planning and transition assistance business which helps seniors plan and manage lifestyle changes such as a downsize or change in health.

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