Employer Solutions for Family Caregivers

The Model

As employees begin to take on new eldercare duties, or are thrust into that role during moments of crisis, they may need to take temporary leaves of absence from their jobs or temporarily reconfigure their work arrangements. Access to flexible work arrangements and breaks can support employees with caregiving responsibilities by giving them more choice and control over when and where they work.  As with other models, flexibility and breaks have the potential to enhance employee’s engagement in work tasks by adjusting work assignments to correspond with employee capacities to perform their jobs.

Policies that fall under this model include: reduced hours or part-time work, flexible schedules to accommodate eldercare appointments and caregiving, working off site or at a different location closer to elder who needs care, remote work or telework, sabbaticals, and leave (either paid or unpaid). Keep in mind that these policies are designed to address a wide range of situations. 

Key Points

  1. Family leave can help to smooth an employee’s entry into a caregiver role and may also be necessary during times of crisis.  Most employers in the United States are obligated to provide 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to their employees to address concerns such as elder caregiving in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act.
    This Quick Guide [download PDF] reviews four ways to expand leave options: by expanding the workers eligible for options, providing options for leave beyond 12 weeks, providing options for paid leave, and fostering a supportive work environment.
  2. Flexible work options allow employees to achieve a better fit between their jobs and family life. These include: schedule flexibilities, location flexibilities (e.g., working from home), and reduced work loads. A growing body of research indicates that flexible work options can provide mutual benefits to employees (in terms of the fit between work and life) and employers (in terms of job performance).

This Quick Guide [download PDF] reviews three types of flexible work options, together with information on how prevalent those options are.

Provision of Leave

The provision of specific leave and flexible work arrangement options can vary, but all of the strategies involve extending greater control to employees in how their work is to be organized. Here are some examples, with data from the 2015 Talent Management Study indicating how frequently these practices are implemented.

An employee’s entry into an elder-caregiver role can have a profound impact on work-life balance.  Distance, the intensity of care needed, and the complex logistics involved in determining the best arrangements to pursue might further complicate the transformation.  For most employees, this requires access to time – time needed for travel, to locate resources, as well as to figure out who will do what, and how.  Employers can make a remarkable difference in resolving the working caregiver’s work-life balance by providing temporary “time outs” from jobs.

In the United States, in accordance with the Family Medical Leave Act, most employers are obligated to provide 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to their employees to address concerns such as elder caregiving.  There are exceptions however, as smaller employers are not necessarily required to provide this leave, and employees who have worked with their employer for less than a full year, or who work part time, may also not be covered.  Beyond the provisions of the FMLA, unless secured by contractual agreement, how much leave employees receive – and whether that leave will be paid or not – is usually at their employer’s discretion.  Even though many employers are required by law to provide leave options, many do not.  The 2015 Talent Management Study revealed only one in seven employers offer more leave than is required by the FMLA, and approximately one in ten reported providing less leave than is required for most employers. 

A crucial distinction exists between paid leave and unpaid leave.  In the United States leave usually is uncompensated, which can make it financially difficult to use leave options, and this is concern affects more than low wage workers.  Data from the 2015 Talent Management Study reveals that only one in seven companies offered partial pay to their employees who take leave, and fewer than one in twenty (3%) offered full pay to employees who take leave to care for a seriously ill family member. 

Paradoxically, in the United States, workers who are most apt to engage in elder-caregiving (especially women employees and racial/ethnic minorities) are among the least likely to actually have access to paid leave resources.  This is primarily because of the types of jobs and types of industries where these workers are located.  For this reason, the provision of leave options can be critical elements in employer efforts to attract, retain, and engage a diverse workforce.  But even when leave options are “on the books”, barriers can prevent workers from actually using this resource, owing to a variety of factors, including a lack of knowledge, fear of letting down coworkers, fear of reprisal for requesting or using leave, and long term career risks/penalties.  This indicates that creating a supportive work environment requires changing both policies and values.

Quick Guide: Supporting working caregivers through expanded leave options

Use the following key points to begin discussions about ways to expand leave options that make sense for your organization.

 A model to support working caregivers via leave options is characterized by the following employer practices.

  1. Make leave options widely available.  Currently most employers offer some employees leave options.  Far fewer make them available to most or all of their workforces.
  2. Provide options for extended leave.  Offer opportunities above and beyond the 12 week threshold of the Family Medical Leave Act. This can enhance the capacity of employees to manage more complex or enduring concerns.
  3. Provide options for paid leave.  For most employees (not just low wage workers) the prospect of an income loss can make unpaid leave unusable.
  4. Foster a supportive environment.  This requires not only structuring leave policies, but also creating a culture in which workers do not feel that their use of leave will result in being sidelined. Upper level and front-line management can help define work environments so that leave options are both present and usable.  

The 2015 Talent Management Study found that four in five companies provide messages from top leadership strongly or very strongly affirming the connection between work and family concerns (78%), but not all do. When asked the degree to which top leadership communicates that “organizations should care about employees as people, considering how work demands can intersect with family demands,” 16% of respondents said “weakly” and 6% said “not at all.” 

The provision of leave options is a common model that employers follow, but the nature of leave policies and practices can vary from employer to employer.  Increasing access to more expansive leave options and access to paid leave are critical elements in supporting employee caregivers. 

Provision of Flexible Work Arrangements

When jobs are harmonized with personal and family commitments, they can be viewed as having “fit”.  Alternately, when jobs are out of synch with other responsibilities – such as the need to provide care to a family member – they can adversely affect everyone involved, including the employer.  Without support, working caregivers may suffer from increased stress, poor health, depression, or burn out, all of which may affect employee engagement and job performance.  Under the model of “fit,” the employer does not provide solutions for caregiving challenges. Instead, the employer provides greater opportunity for employees to utilize personal resources to more effectively navigate job and family commitments. One way of creating fit is by moving away from rigid one-size-fits-all work arrangements to more customized and flexible job designs.

Flexible work arrangements can take a variety of forms, and not every approach is best suited to every type of job or every type of workplace.  But they do hold promise and a variety of options can be considered.

Clearly, when work and family commitments are at odds with one another, either jobs or families will suffer.  Research consistently shows that when flexible work options are available, they increase employee capacities to respond to the needs of their families.  A growing body of research shows that flexible work options hold promise for enhancing job performance as well.  The 2015 Talent Management Study shows that only 1 in 10 companies (8%) had performed analyses to determine if there was a positive return on investment for their allocation of flexible work options.  But of those that did, 2 in 3 (64%) identified favorable findings, indicating that expanding access to flexible work options can have a positive impact on the bottom line.

The use of flexible work options to advance fit is one model to support working caregivers. When considering the viability of flexible work options, employers and employees need to recognize that these alternative work arrangements are a two-way street – that they should provide mutual benefits.  Alternative work arrangements also do not need to be permanent, and in fact the best way to implement a new work arrangement is first to consider if the option holds promise and to try it on a temporary basis.   Often times a modest increase in flexibility can make a world of difference.  Perhaps the best question to ask is not “why should employees have access to flexibility?”  but rather, “why shouldn’t they?”

Quick Guide: Supporting caregivers through flexible work options

Employers now offer far more flexibility to working caregivers than they did in the past. Here are three general approaches, along with data from the 2015 Talent Management Study indicating how common it is among United States employers.

<tdwidth=470">Reductions in work load are even less common than work location flexibility, but often this option is an essential resource when employees adjust to new caregiving arrangements. We call attention especially to the observation that 6 in 10 employers enable at least some of their employees to reduce their work hours, and this most commonly occurs in the context of a reduction in pay. 

About the optionHow common is it?

Schedule Flexibility:

One approach is to provide scheduling flexibility that can enable employees to adjust starting and quitting times on a daily or weekly basis. Flexible scheduling might also enable workers to take longer breaks and make up for the lost time either at the end or the beginning of their shifts. It is also possible to make more enduring changes, such as integrating options for compressed workweeks (e.g., four 10 hour days  instead of five 8 hour days).

The 2015 Talent Management Study reveals that 2 in 3 employers report that their employees most commonly have flexibility to fit their work into different times in the day or week. A more detailed analysis of these data reveals some important distinctions between employers in their approach to schedule flexibility. Some employers (ranging from 8% to 37% depending on the type of flexible work option) make specific types of arrangements widely available to their workforces. For example, we found that 37% of employers make the option to adjust starting and quitting times available to most or all of their employees. In contrast, other employers are much more restrictive in their allocation of these types of flexible arrangements. For example, 43% of employers do not offer the option of a compressed work week to all of their employees.

Location Flexibility:

Another approach is to enable workers to have work location flexibility. This can be accomplished, for example, by enabling employees to work from home on a regular or periodic basis. Often this type of location flexibility is accompanied by schedule flexibility.

Our study shows that this option is less available than schedule flexibility alone. Nonetheless, 1 in 3 employers say that the typical employee in their workplace has some capacity to do this. A more detailed analysis reveals that relatively few employers make options for location flexibility widely available in their companies. And 1 in 4 companies (29.5%) do not allow any employees to work off site. Nonetheless, the 2015 Talent Management Study shows that most employers offer some options to work offsite to at least some of their employees, and some make these options expansive.

Reduced Work Load:

A third approach is to enable employees to temporarily reduce their work load, such as moving from a 40 hour workweek to a 30 hour workweek.

Reductions in work load are even less common than work location flexibility, but often this option is an essential resource when employees adjust to new caregiving arrangements. We call attention especially to the observation that 6 in 10 employers enable at least some of their employees to reduce their work hours, and this most commonly occurs in the context of a reduction in pay.

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