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Employers Failing Workers When It Comes to Caregiving

Many employers are failing their workers when it comes to alleviating the stress that many are dealing with as caregivers.

Employers who fail to support the caregiving needs of their employees risk big hits to their productivity, retention and ability to compete, a recent report from Harvard Business School finds (PDF).

Three factors--an increasing number of female workers, an older population that is growing and a very tight job market--should spur employers to take caregiving more seriously. The report’s authors, Joseph B. Fuller and Manjari Raman, note that “American companies are facing a caregiving crisis--they just refuse to acknowledge it.” Fuller is a professor of management practice in general management at Harvard Business School, while Raman is program director and senior researcher for the school.

“Rising health care and professional caregiving costs and changing demographics over the past few decades have put great pressure on American employees as they try to balance work and care responsibilities,” they note in their report. “Yet many employers remain largely oblivious to the growing costs of this hidden 'care economy'—costs that hurt employers and employees alike.”

Employers are confronting the very real prospect of good workers quitting to care for a child, parent or friend. For nearly 75% of employees, this is their reality. And companies who lose good workers are forfeiting huge investments they made in those employees in terms of recruitment, retention and training. “Companies don’t realize that there are material returns associated with helping these workers,” Fuller tells Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge. “If I told an executive, ‘You could reduce your turnover of key personnel by 3%,’ they would say, ‘Where do I sign?’”

The report surveyed 301 human resources leaders and business owners and 1,500 workers about caregiving. The employees panned their companies, noting that they punish caregivers, especially for missing work, coming in late or leaving early.

About 60% of employees say caregivers are pegged as less committed to their careers, while 55% say caregivers are less likely to advance career-wise compared with peers. But the HR leaders and business owners “seemed oblivious to employee’s challenges, with only 24% acknowledging that caregiving impacted performance,” according to Working Knowledge. “However, the behaviors that hold back an employee’s career were clear, with 33% of employers blaming missed work days and 28% citing lateness.”

No Viable Options

A Best Buy employee who was forced to bring her infant to work when no other child care option was viable inspired the retail giant to adopt a new company-wide policy, The Washington Post reports.

When Lanette Johnson’s manager needed her to come in to work, she was in a bind because she could not find someone to watch her son, Logan, in 2017. So Johnson, a manager at Best Buy in Arlington, VA, took Logan to work and gave a presentation with her son close by in his stroller. That experience prompted corporate to enact a backup child-care benefit for all full-time and part-time workers at its 1,000 stores nationwide. Those workers now have access to 10 days of employer-paid child care per year via a partnership with Employees need to only shell out a $10 per day co-pay.

While Johnson served as the inspiration for the new program, it was a human resources manager who was in the store when Johnston brought in her son that pushed corporate for the benefit. Best Buy also established paid caregiver leave for up to four weeks, Reuters reports. It recently introduced paid-time off for part-time workers.

“People are able to spend the final days of a parent’s life with them, and they wouldn’t have been able to do that otherwise,” says Melanie Moriarty, a senior director in HR at Best Buy. “We hear so many heartwarming stories.”

Meanwhile, News Corp has tapped Bright Horizons for backup childcare, with the organization also assisting with eldercare. News Corp also uses Wellthy, a service that helps families coordinate caregiving.
“One of the hardest parts is logistics,” says Marco Diaz, senior vice president, global head of benefits at News Corp. “If you are suddenly in a position to figure out schedules, doctors, pharmacy and transportation needs--most of it is out of the skill set of the individual.”

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