As a New York Times article recently noted, the best healthcare insurance in the U.S. might be “daughter care.” That is: having a healthy daughter who can tend to your needs in older age.
The Times article built upon research on dementia caregiving published in the journal JAMA Neurology, which said, “The best long-term care insurance in our country is a conscientious daughter.” The paper noted that the “average person with dementia requires 171 hours of care per month,” a burden that falls disproportionately on women, who provide about two-thirds of all elder care in the United States. For women who work, the paper said, “dementia care responsibilities can increase costs to their employer from absenteeism, productivity loss, stress-related disability claims, and health benefits plan spending.”
While family caregiving activities can certainly burden an employer, the real burden falls on the caregivers themselves.
New research we conducted at Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network, examined how juggling a career with caregiving responsibilities stresses working women. Understanding the needs of family caregivers from this perspective can help employers increase support for these workers and reduce the financial impact on the business.
- Feeling torn between work and family responsibilities.
A majority of working women caregivers said they frequently felt they had to choose between being a “good daughter” and being a “good employee.”
This feeling derived at least in part from pressures placed upon these caregivers in the workplace. Approximately one-quarter of respondents reported feeling stigmatized at work for being a family caregiver, and nearly an equal number said their supervisor was unsympathetic to their situation. And 13 percent of respondents said they have actually been penalized at work for being a caregiver.
- Fear of losing their job
More than one in four working women reported they had felt fearful of losing their job at some time during their caregiving journey. And 11 percent of respondents felt their job was currently at risk due to their caregiving activities.
The threat of job loss is a severe stressor for anyone, let alone someone who already feels torn between love of family and wanting to be a good employee.
- Being forced to make (sometimes drastic) work-life changes
About 91 percent of women surveyed said they had to make changes to their work life in order to accommodate their caregiving activities. Notably, women caregivers use, on average, nearly 30 percent of their paid time off to meet their caregiver responsibilities, which reduces the time they have available to take sick leave for themselves.
Almost 10 percent of respondents in traditional employment situations said they have taken the drastic step of switching from full-time to part-time work due to their caregiving activities, and 61 percent of self-employed caregivers reported scaling back their hours to provide caregiving to an aging relative.
Of course, reducing their hours often places financial strain on working caregivers on top of the stress they already feel.
- Struggling to find time to “do it all”
83 percent of working women said caregiving has strained their ability to manage a work-life balance, while 97 percent said caregiving, in general, added stress to their lives. This may be due to the long-term nature of caregiving: the survey showed the average working caregiver has been caring for a parent for six years.
The Evolving Role of Male Caregivers
While the survey focused on working female caregivers, many men also shoulder some of the family caregiving burden.
By some estimates, men now make up around one-third of all caregivers, but men comprise nearly half of working caregivers. And this number is expected to swell over the coming decades, as the Baby Boom generation ages and requires more caregiving from family members.
More research is required around the issue of the ways in which working affects male caregivers, but men reported more negative impacts at work due to caregiving activities than women did. Men also reported lower general satisfaction as working family caregivers than women did (42 percent versus 53 percent).
Creating a Culture of Support for Family Caregivers
It’s important for employers to support working family caregivers in order to reduce the negative impact caregiving activities can have on their business.
That means providing benefits working caregivers want and that enable them to thrive. This can include things like more paid time off, awareness campaigns designed to reduce the stigma that is sometimes attached to family caregiving, and connecting employees with resources to aid their caregiving life and reduce their stress.
One such resource you may find useful is the Daughters in the WorkplaceSM public education program we’ve put together at Home Instead. This program offers a wealth of tools to help working caregivers find support, reduce stress and even learn how to talk to their employer about their needs. As a healthcare professional, you can share this resource widely with the family caregivers you know in order to help them develop a better work-life balance, lower their stress and preserve their own health.
Are you serving in a caregiver role for an aging parent or relative? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.