Supporting Family Caregivers is a Key to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace

According to the Harvard Business School, more than seven out of every 10 U.S. workers have what amounts to a demanding second job – providing unpaid care for their older parents, spouses, or other loved ones. These dedicated employees often struggle to balance all their responsibilities on the job while also caring for a friend or family member. But there are practical ways that employers can support them and, in the process, help their organizations boost productivity, retention, and morale.  

Employees of any age, gender, race, ethnic group, marital status, region of the country, occupation, and income level are likely caring for a loved one in some capacity, and they do so while juggling the responsibilities they have at work. Working family caregivers are a group as diverse as America itself.  Family caregiving for older adults is not just an older worker issue.

Providing a caregiver-friendly workplace culture has important diversity, equity, and inclusion implications in organizations. Caregiving can have disproportionate impacts on diverse groups, and it’s important to recognize and support all types of caregivers in your organization.  A recent study conducted by AARP and S&P Global showed that as many corporations have responded to the growing needs of their employees by expanding benefits and flexibility, the expansion has been uneven among parents taking care of children and family caregivers of adults. Some companies aren’t as familiar with the issue of family caregiving for adults, and instead focus on supporting parents with young children. Many firms do not have formal written policies for employees caring for an older adult, showing the need for more awareness and employer action toward equitable supports for all types of caregivers. 

To give you an idea of the diversity among family caregivers and their varied needs, just consider a few examples. 36 percent of family caregivers characterize their situation as highly stressful and causing burnout, with many of those in a “sandwich generation” taking care of kids and aging parents.  According to SAGE, LGBTQ+ employees become family caregivers at a higher rate than non-LGBTQ+ employees. Yet, workplace policies and benefits affecting family leave, medical coverage, and dependent care may leave them at a disadvantage or neglect them altogether. Across subgroups, women comprise the majority of family caregivers – 61 percent overall. This amounts to more than 65 million women, a majority of which do so while holding full- or part-time jobs.

Further, supporting working family caregivers is an effective talent management strategy.  Research suggests that some of the very skills necessary to successfully care for an older loved one, including communication, empathy, project management, and stress tolerance, are assets that companies prize. Caregiving experience helps develop transferable skills that can be applied in the workplace.

This is more relevant than ever in a tight labor market where many employers struggle to fill vacancies and maintain the in-house skill sets required for success. 

We know, for example, that 15 percent of retirees surveyed by the Federal Reserve said they left their jobs in 2021 to care for family members. While the pandemic has been a huge factor, the difficulties faced by family caregivers who work reflect demographic realities that seem certain to endure. An aging population means more people will be turning to their family members to provide care in the coming years, making it more challenging for many workers to balance all their responsibilities.

For all these reasons, an awareness of the varied challenges faced by family caregivers can help employers build and maintain their workforce, become more inclusive, and shape human resource policies that are equitable for all and benefit the organization. 

With the proper steps, however, we can ease their path in continuing to contribute to their workplaces. Part of the answer is to ensure family caregivers have the resources they need to tackle all their duties, a goal that AARP has advocated for years.

Policies like flexible scheduling and paid family leave are vital inside the workplace. We encourage employers to establish Employee Resource Groups that can provide various forms of support to family caregivers at work. Employers can find more information at AARP’s Employer Resource Center.

The ranks of family caregivers will continue to grow. Employers that respond to their needs can take a big step to keep their workforce as productive as possible and position themselves as winners in the long term.

Such efforts are a key to creating an economy that is more inclusive and equitable – a goal that will benefit us all.

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