A prevalent trend in our organization and in others across industries is the pressure that employees are facing: balancing work and caregiving. Many employees today are in a situation where they need to care for an aging parent while juggling the responsibilities of a demanding job.

It’s important to recognize that caregiving employees are faced with quite the challenge, which can hinder their work-life balance and overall job satisfaction. But you can help alleviate the stress they feel by simply recognizing their situation and doing what you can to help. Here’s what we’re seeing right now in what some people are calling “the caregiving crisis“:

  • Requests to work remotely so employees can move closer to the family members requiring support
  • Employees moving out of the cities where offices are based to accommodate living with their family in shared homes, which they otherwise couldn’t afford. This increases their commute time to and from work — likely adding more stress to the situation
  • A global workforce means that there is now a struggle to support parents from a distance as many individuals are based in other provinces or countries
  • Many employees happen to be the sibling who is geographically closest to parents or they are the only child who, out of necessity, must bear the responsibility of caring for their elderly parents
  • Increased usage of sick and dependent leave taken to look after someone else. sick leave taken may be due to the impact on the caregiver’s own health, as they consistently put someone else’s needs ahead of their own
  • High stress levels due to all of the above — being a caregiver is a recipe for guilt and feelings of inadequacy as they strive to be all things to all people

As we continue to live longer in general, society faces increasing challenges for how to support an older generation whose longevity does not come without health concerns. Couple this with many individuals deciding to delay having children until later in life, and you have many employees who are sandwiched between being the caregiver to their children and, essentially, a parent to their own parents.

What can we do as employers to support caregiving employees?

Educate every member of your organization on how your group benefits can support them in this regard, including:

1. Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

While many people regard this as a crisis management program to only be used as a last resort, your company’s EAP is something your employees should be educated on. Your EAP team can perform extensive research on resources such as home care, live-in facilities, eligibility for government grants, and more. Employees are trying to fit as much as possible into their busy lives, so having someone else spend the time looking into these details can make a huge difference.

2. Self-care

Proactive benefits such as registered massage therapy (RMT) can help to recharge a person’s batteries — both physically and mentally — and help them to keep going.

3. Encourage flexible working

While not every company can offer a compressed work week, letting your staff know that they have the freedom to attend important medical appointments without using vacation and to be able to leave work if there is an emergency without having to justify the absence can alleviate another potential layer of stress.

4. Make sure you are checking in regularly with individuals that you know are juggling a lot in their private lives even if they seem to be coping

Doing so will show that you care about them and understand their situation.

5. Encourage Managers to hold regular meetings so they can create the foundation of a strong working relationship

This way, if support is needed, it can be asked for or offered at an early stage.

6. Tell your employees to take time off and help them actually do it

Ensure that your actions fit your words. There is no point in telling someone to use their vacation time, but then overload them with work that prohibits a much-needed break.

What is the David Suzuki Foundation doing to support our employees?

We do all of the things outlined above. In terms of self-care, we offer weekly drop-in meditation classes that are paid for by individual employees. We’ve also held employer-paid Compassion Cultivate Training on site, helping employees to use meditation as a tool to build inner resilience. However, these things are not enough on their own.

In HR, you often hold a great deal of confidential information about employees’ private lives that you can’t share. This can present a sense of frustration, as you are aware that there may be other colleagues who are going through exactly the same thing, but you can’t connect them. In addition, no matter how empathetic you are as an employer or how many great benefits and programs you have in place, there is no substitute for someone else just “getting it” because they are going through the exact same experience.

Recognizing the aforementioned obstacles, we were delighted to partner with Curatio, which offers what they call a “social health prescription”. It’s a mobile platform that connects patients and their families to personalized support, education and disease management tools that make living with a health challenge easier. However, for DSF, it was Curatio’s pilot program targeted at caregivers that seemed to offer a potential solution to the challenges we were seeing.

If you’re interested in exploring this as an HR manager or business owner, you can download the app for free and create a confidential account so that all the information you choose to provide is private. Then you can opt to join the caregiver community, which states: “This community exists to welcome anyone offering their care and support to someone suffering from a health condition…and aims to help caregivers remember they are not alone.”

As an employer, while we can’t meet the individual needs of every employee in a caregiving situation, we can do our utmost to find solutions to ensure they know they are supported and can ask for help. The fact that we recognize the need for these policies and programs shows employees that we care and that they are not alone.

This blog is dedicated to all the caregivers who quietly juggle the demands of their lives as parents, children, and employees with grace, kindness, and humility – we are lucky to have you as colleagues.

About Catherine Gordon

Catherine leads initiatives to ensure that our client, the David Suzuki Foundation, has the people and roles it needs to achieve its goals. Their employees are highly motivated, talented and professional individuals who deserve the organization’s support to thrive. Catherine works to articulate that support through a talent-management strategy that is aligned with the organization’s long-term direction.
Originally from Northern Ireland, Catherine moved to London, U.K., after graduation and then to Vancouver in 2005. She has worked in an HR capacity in numerous sectors and organizations throughout her career, which has included law firms, charity, technology and a regulatory body before joining the David Suzuki Foundation. She is a lifelong learner and currently holds the CHRP designation, a Strategic HR Practices certificate from Cornell University, a Certificate from Queens University on Leading a Mentally Healthy Workplace, is a Certified Prepare Training Instructor and has completed a Leadership and Inclusion Certificate through Centennial College.

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