Employer Solutions for Family Caregivers

Your existing workplace policies might not work for all caregivers.

Many employers hope that workers with caregiving responsibilities will use their existing work-life benefits, and to some extent these “general” policies are a resource for employees. For instance, allowing people to work a flexible schedule helps them address many work-family issues, including both managing child care and taking elderly parents to doctor’s appointments.

However, your existing policies might not work for all caregivers. Understanding the diversity in caregiving experiences is a first step in seeing where your existing policies might be strengthened or modified to better meet the variety of needs your working caregivers have. For instance, if employees need to navigate a relative’s transition to a nursing home or assisted living, offering information on these transitions in the context of an existing employee counseling program might be a useful first step. 

Caregiving is diverse

Caregiving situations are diverse, but it may be helpful to think of this diversity in terms of the forms and the variations in the type of care that employee caregivers provide. 

1. Forms of care: Caregiving has three general forms or types: instrumental, informational, and emotional care. 

  • Instrumental help refers to assistance with daily living, both basic tasks of life (such as eating and bathing) and other activities related to maintaining an independent life (such as shopping, cooking, and cleaning).
  • Informational help refers to the researching and sharing of information, such as researching Medicare options or housing options for older adults.  
  • Emotional help could include being a companion and friend, and providing emotional support in times of stress.

For most employees, the three forms are intertwined. For instance, an employee might help to shop, cook, and clean for a parent (instrumental), while also researching options for assisted living (informational) and providing emotional support as the parent considers the consequences of selling their house and moving to a new living location (emotional). 

2. Dimensions of care: In addition to taking different forms, employers should recognize that the caregiving experience can vary in frequency, intensity, and predictability.

  • Frequency: While some employees might perform specific types of caregiving tasks only once a month or even less often, others might have to respond to caregiving needs on a daily basis. 
  • Intensity: The intensity of emotional, financial, and physical demands that caregiving places on employees also differs. It is possible for caregiving to be infrequent but to place high demands on an employee.  Additionally, this intensity may ebb and flow over the course of the caregiving spectrum. 
  • Predictability: While employees might be able to anticipate some types of caregiving, such as weekend visits to an aging parent, other types of tasks such as unexpected changes in medical conditions are often unpredictable. 

Let’s think about a couple of examples. Employees who keep in touch with their aging parents with regular evening phone calls that last for 15 – 20 minutes each night might report that their caregiving responsibilities are frequent, not very intense, and fairly predictable. These employees might need limited support from the workplace, such as information and referral services. In comparison, an employee who needs to supplement daily medical care (for example, dispensing medications or helping with personal hygiene) might feel that the care tasks are frequent, intense and stressful, and fairly predictable. Respite care and the ability to reduce work hours might be more helpful in these situations. 

Tool: Gap Analysis

Many of your current workforce management policies may be applicable to caregiving situations. These include family leave policies that exceed the minimum legal requirements, workplace flexibility, employee assistance programs, respite care, seminars on family issues, and dependent care flexible spending accounts (see What Are the Models). However, your existing policies may not cover all of the situations that your employees commonly encounter. How do you know where the gaps are? 

1. Map your current policies onto this grid [download pdf here] to identify the types of caregiving resources your policies cover well. For instance, imagine a hypothetical employer who offered employees occasional flexibility in the time they arrive and leave work, dependent care flexible spending accounts, and back-up care. Their grid might look like this:

Caregiving Benefits & Resources – Gap Analysis Grid

Types of caregiving  
Instrumental occasional flexibility / dependent care flexible spending accounts / back-up care
Dimensions of caregiving  
Frequency        Low:

occasional flexibility / dependent care flexible spending accounts

dependentcare flexible spending accounts
Intensity          Low:

occasional flexibility / dependent care flexible spending accounts

Predictability    Low:

occasional flexibility / back-upcare

dependentcare flexible spending accounts

The employer would realize that, while their current policies could address various frequencies, intensities, and predictabilities of care, most of the policies apply primarily to instrumental care. Employees might “stretch” their policies to cover informational or emotional care (e.g., leaving early to research Medicare options for a parent), but implementing new benefits or programs might be more effective in helping them meet those needs.

2. Review “What Are the Models” and case studies to identify policies that could potentially fill these gaps. For instance, programs that provide information and support may help employees to better address the informational and emotional aspects of their caregiving roles. Some example policies include: Kimberly Clark’s Family Caregiver Network, Duke’s Eldercare Consultation, and other programs in “What Are Others Doing?” 

3. Survey employees or conduct focus groups (see Quick Guide: Assessing Caregiving Needs Using Employee Surveys and Quick Guide: Assessing the Impact of Caregiving Policies) on whether they want or would use programs, such as support groups, consultation, or seminars. Free survey software such as surveymonkey can help you to maintain the confidentiality of your employees while collecting data. While you may find numerous gaps in your analysis, certain gaps are likely to be more important to your workforce right now. 

4. Prioritize developing or expanding policies that are both desired by your employees and that help address gaps in your caregiving grid.  Gap analysis should be combined with other sources of data on employee needs and preferences.  


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