“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”

– Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter

The Family Caregiver Alliance® defines a caregiver as, “an unpaid individual (for example, a spouse, partner, family member, friend, or neighbor) involved in assisting others with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks.”

As providers, we can also define most caregivers as loving, caring heroes, who give of themselves unconditionally while in many instances sacrificing their own health and well-being, relationships and even employment.

According to research from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, in 2015 there were roughly 34.2 million unpaid caregivers in the U.S. providing care particularly for someone over the age of 50. The average age of a caregiver across the board was 49.2, which falls firmly in the primetime of a career and raising teens or even grandkids.

Statistics also show these caregivers spending on average 24.4 hours a week providing care for a loved one. This research also indicated that 70% of working caregivers suffer work-related difficulties due to their dual roles. For instance, 61% of caregivers experience at least one change in their employment due to caregiving such as cutting back work hours, taking a leave of absence, receiving a warning about performance/attendance, among others. Furthermore, 49% arrive to their place of work late/leave early/take time off, 15% take a leave of absence, 14% reduce their hours/take a demotion, 7% receive a warning about performance/attendance, 5% turn down a promotion, 4% choose early retirement, 3% lose job benefits, and 6% give up working entirely.¹

Add all these stats and scenarios together, and you have a recipe for a residual burden on caregivers resulting in burnout, depression, poor health and a compromised commitment to their employers. This translates into poor work performance, loss of productivity, plus increases in absenteeism, health care subsidies, paid time-off, sick leave, and FMLA claims. Bottom line – caregiver absenteeism costs the U.S. economy an estimated $25.2 billion in lost productivity. ²

Employers must adapt

This problem will continue to trend upward, especially as the number of baby boomers surges and eventually grow older, frailer and more dependent. Employers will need to be more sensitive and proactive on this issue. Family Caregiver Alliance offers employers a number of suggestions for removing barriers to equal employment such as adopting caregiver-friendly work policies and workplace flexibility, along with providing eldercare support, resources, and referral services to caregiver employees.³ [Here is the full list from FCA].

As Rosalyn Carter summarized, the potential for caregiving can affect us all, so the likelihood of being a caregiver and an employee simultaneously is a strong possibility. Are you prepared as an employer?

Matthew J. Gallardo, BASW, CCP, ROCC, is the Director of Community Engagement and Coaching at Messiah Lifeways.

¹National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP (2015) Caregiving in the U.S.
²Gallup-Healthways. (2011). Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Survey: Caregiving Costs U.S. Economy $25.2 Billion in Lost Productivity. Based on the average number of work days missed per working caregiver, assuming $200 in lost productivity per day.
³Williams, J. C., Devaux, R., Petrac, P., & Feinberg, L. (2012). Protecting Family Caregivers from Employment Discrimination