Add the Pew Charitable Trusts to the list of workplace flexibility proponents. "Building flexibility into work schedules can help employees stay in the labor force, which is critical to their economic stability. It also can help employers recruit and retain the people they need," the organization asserts as it reports the results of a 2018 study of flexibility and caregivers.
For the study, the Pew Charitable Trusts interviewed employees and employers in eight urban areas and three rural areas, surveying only employees whose total household income is no more than $75,000 per year. And the results made clear the excruciating tradeoffs caregivers have to make in inflexible work environments.
Take the Seattle man who had to quit his job to care for his mother full-time. "Well, I could work extra hours, hire somebody else to take care of my mom, or I could just take care of my mom and see if that works out," he said.
Or the Fresno man who was forced out of his customer service job to tend to a disabled family member. "I just didn't have any more sick leave,'' he lamented. "I didn't have any more vacation leave. I used it all up."
These are common refrains, unfortunately, as the workforce suffers what experts have deemed a "caregiving crisis." 68 percent of caregivers said they had to make work accommodations because of their caregiving responsibilities, and 1 in 5 said they had left the workforce early, according to the AARP. "Such tradeoffs can lead to reduced job security and lower Social Security payments, employment benefits, and private retirement savings," Pew observes.
Plus, caregivers provide all this unpaid labor—$470 billion worth in 2013—while shouldering the financial burden of medical bills and other costs associated with their responsibilities. Take the Nashville man who went deep into debt after his father had a stroke. The same man then cared for his mother after she was diagnosed with cancer. "Her illness added more debt,'' he recalled. "And then I finally lost her, too. So yes, the financial situation went downhill."
The caregiving-while-working challenge is already common—6 in 10 caregivers reported being employed while providing care in 2015—and is bound to become even more prevalent—the number of Americans 65 or older is expected to rise nearly 41 percent between 2012 and 2030.
Another takeaway from the Pew study, though, is that flexibility provides a solution: "Caregivers said access to flexibility at work can help them balance responsibilities … and manage caregiving responsibilities without having to give up their jobs or reduce their hours. They also felt greater loyalty to their employers—even in jobs with less competitive wages or benefits."
And many of the employers the Pew researchers contacted had already seen the light. A Philadelphia manager said a survey had revealed flex was more important than salary or other benefits for the company's employees. An Omaha company owner said that whereas it was challenging to offer competitive salaries to employees, flex had become a "competitive advantage."
No one should have to leave the workforce to provide care for a loved one—and, in the words of that Seattle man, "see if that works out." Everyone needs flex, but if companies don't start supporting their caregivers, they'll find themselves short-staffed, especially as the population ages. If you're interested in retaining and engaging your caregiving employees, we can help.