Getting Your Employees Attention Back to Work

By: Michael Christian

It is 9:00 am on a Monday morning. Do you know where your employees’ attention is? Is it on work?

Picture this. You are at work. The phone rings. It is your aging father’s neighbor calling to say that Dad is walking around outside in his pajamas and seems confused. You have a full day of meetings and deadlines. Your heart sinks as you try to figure out how to care for your dad and keep your job.

The phone rings again. This time it is the school nurse saying that your asthmatic child is having trouble breathing.

According to the American Productivity Audit, one-third of respondents said dependent health concerns were a top reason employees were not able to focus on their job while at work.

What you may not know is that the situations above can just as likely happen to a working woman as to a working man. However if a woman gets the troubling phone call, she is more likely to talk about it at work while the man will not (2003 National Alliance for Caregiving national survey).

Millions of working adults - men and women - are juggling the competing demands of caring for a chronically ill or disabled parent, raising a family, and managing a career.

Working caregivers sacrifice leisure time, and often suffer stress-related illnesses. Negative effects on working caregivers include time lost from work, lower productivity, quitting a job to provide care, lost career opportunities and lower future earnings.

Eventually, some 16 percent quit their jobs to provide care full-time. Work disruptions due to employee caregiving responsibilities result in productivity losses of $1,142 per year per employee. According to the Washington Post, researchers estimate that the cost of informal caregiving in terms of lost productivity to U.S. businesses is $29 billion annually.

Caregiving Takes Work-Life Toll

A recent MetLife study dubbed "Juggling Act" revealed some of the productivity-killing adjustments that caregivers choose to make to their work schedules:

  • 84% make phone calls

  • 69% arrive late or leave early

  • 67% take time off during the workday

  • 29% make up work at another time

In addition, a national survey conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving in 1997 found that two in ten working caregivers turned down the opportunity to work on special projects; almost as many avoided work-related travel. Forty percent of the survey respondents said that caregiving affected their ability to advance in their jobs.

What Employers Can Do

Here are seven measures you can take to reduce employee stress, increase productivity and decrease lost work time due to employee caregiving responsibilities.

  1. Offer "cafeteria style" employee benefits which allow employees to select supplemental dependent care coverage to reimburse costs for in-home care or adult day care. Benefits also should cover therapeutic counseling for employees to help cope with the stresses of caregiving.

  2. Provide information on helpful Internet sites or resource centers.

  3. Organize in-house caregiver support groups or coordinate with local community groups or hospitals so that employees can attend an outside support group.

  4. One of the most critical benefits for an employee with caregiving responsibilities is time. Flexible work hours, family illness days, and leave time are key. Data from the Bureau of National Affairs (1993) found that flexible scheduling improved job performance, decreased lateness and employee turnover, and increased job satisfaction.

  5. Companies with 50 or more employees must comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a seriously ill parent, spouse or child, while protecting job security. Smaller firms can use the FMLA guidelines to provide support for individual employees.

  6. Hold a company "caregiver fair" or a series of lunchtime seminars on issues such as health care planning before a crisis hits or coping skills for caregivers.

  7. Offer private long-term care insurance coverage for employees, their spouses, and dependents.

Employers have a stake in designing responsive and effective programs to support their caregiving employees. Research has demonstrated that the cost to employers of lost productivity and other factors related to caregiving employees’ difficulty in balancing work and family is high. Taking action immediately starts to increase productivity, lessen direct and indirect financial costs, and enhance employer/employee work/life relationship – which directly impacts on employee morale, satisfaction and retention.

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