This guest blog post was contributed by Dr. Rebecca Martinez, a Gerontologist and an expert in caregiver program development. Dr. Martinez is a consultant for CVS Caremark focusing on program development and government programs.

Caregiving is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of individuals, families, organizations and society. Much of the responsibility and the burden of caregiving, however, is placed on organizations where caregivers work. This has received little attention, despite having significant workforce effects. Studies have shown that having caregivers in the workplace are directly related to monetary business losses in the U.S. that result directly from the informal caregiver’s tardiness and absenteeism, productivity decline, workplace interruptions and high turnover rates.

One of the solutions to this problem requested by caregivers is that businesses develop formalized workplace flexibility policies that would help the caregiver better manage their work schedule and caregiving responsibilities.

Did you know . .

  • That there are over 16 million family caregivers that are employed in U.S. businesses
  • A caregiver is identified as a man or women who provides unpaid services to a parent, grandparent, family member, or friend who is 60 years of age or older
  •  These caregivers are 46 years of age or older and are members of the so-called “baby-boomer” generation
  • Employers lose over $33 billion per year in productivity and absenteeism due to challenges caregivers face in the workplace
  • Six of ten caregivers make work-time adjustments to tend to their family caregiver responsibilities
  • Caregivers are forced to take time off from work and to reduce work hours from full-time to part-time because of caregiver responsibilities
  • Caregiving can affect a business’ productivity, morale and profits.

What do working caregivers need?

  • A formalized flexible work schedule option
  • Logistical flexibility – work hours, time to make calls, etc.
  • Formal corporate policy for working caregivers.

According to past MetLife research and the most recent study of Business, Caregiving and the Bottom Line (2009) by the National Caregivers Library, workplace flexibility is the number-one request by caregivers in their place of work. Yes, caregiving does affect the bottom line profits of U.S. businesses and this will continue to grow as the aging of the population continues into the year 2030. However, today the average caregiver’s age is between the ages of 46 to 62 years of age, with 49 percent being male and 51 percent  being woman caregivers. This demographic age group includes the most experienced and loyal workers in U.S. businesses.

When employers are considering implementing a new workplace flexibility policy, there are a few additional facts they may want to consider regarding male employees. Forty-nine percent of male working caregivers pass up work-related travel more often than women, men are more likely not to discuss their caregiver roll to co-workers, adding stress, and men are more likely not to seek help at work because of the corporate social culture.

Why should companies initiate a formal policy for workplace flexibility for caregivers?

First of all, working caregivers encounter numerous workday interruption; answering and making phone calls during working hours to arrange medical care, ordering prescription medication and calling home to make sure that their loved one is cared for properly. Other interruptions include excessive absenteeism, arriving late to work and leaving early in order to transport their loved one to medical appointments.  Many times caregivers are forced to take leaves of absence, change working hours from full-time to part-time and many times they must quit work or retire early.

Indeed, according to a survey commissioned by Volunteers of America, “Boomer Bust 2011, Unprepared & Unaware,” four main challenge areas faced by aging women and their caregivers are: finances, desire for independence, workplace flexibility and lack of preparation. The survey showed that many caregivers have significant concerns on the dependability and affordability of care for their loved ones, and that many Americans underestimate the amount of savings they will need to finance their long-term care needs. In many cases, current caregivers are not even adequately preparing for their own retirement. All of these findings underscore the need for workplace policies, like flexible work arrangements, that help families meet their obligations to help aging family members.

These policies will also help employers, as the business case for workplace flexibility is well-documented. Updated research by Corporate Voices for Working Families shows that flexibility improves recruitment and retention, and enhances employee commitment, engagement and productivity. Flexibility is also increasingly being used as a talent management tool globally as well as domestically. And, the current U.S. administration has recognized the importance of workplace flexibility to business competitiveness and the need to help working families more effectively manage the dual demands of work and life. To that end, Corporate Voices is also recognizing those businesses that support flexibility in its national workplace flexibility campaign.

These are just a few of the reasons that businesses in the U.S. should start a serious dialogue that will not only assist their most valuable employees and their families, but add additional value to the U.S. economy and the workplace.