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The Caregiving Conundrum for Women

by | Mar 7, 2024

Setting the Context

Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of amazing women who we admire.  And for a moment, I’d like us to consider that many of the incredible (and exhausted) women in our country today are miraculously balancing the tenuous tetter-totter of the demands of work and caregiving.  And in particular, I’d like to especially honor and place a spotlight on those women selflessly caring for their elderly parents, grandparents, or a disabled/special needs child, an ill or disabled spouse, domestic partner, or sibling.

Statistics reveal the staggering reality of caregiving in our society. 41.8 million U.S. residents cared for someone 50 or older in 2020, with nearly a quarter caring for at least 2 people.  Astonishingly, almost 1 in 5 U.S. workers are caregivers for ill, elderly, or special-needs adults, according to Caregiving in the U.S., AARP Report.  65,700 people join the ranks of family caregiving each day.  More than 75% of these caregivers are women, and their average age is 51.  They are known as the “sandwich generation”, where often there is a demand to provide support to both aging parents and teens/young adults.

Looking ahead, the aging population is expected to significantly rise, amplifying the demand for caregivers.  In 2023, those over age 65 made up over 16% of the population, or about 52.8 million people.  By 2040, the number of those over age 65 will have increased to 80.8 million according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau projections.  So those being asked to step up and take on caregiving responsibilities for aging parents will undoubtedly increase.

Caregiving is not a one-time event.  Rather it involves a commitment lasting an average of 4.5 years, according to a recent AARP study – and some 11% of care recipients require assistance for more than 10 years.  And as medical advances extend life expectancy, the duration of caregiving responsibilities continues to grow. Caregivers spend an average of 23.7 hours per week providing unpaid care for loved ones they don’t live with, and 37.4 hours per week with those they do live with.

Impact to Caregivers in the Workplace

The impact of caregiving extends beyond the home, significantly affecting caregivers’ professional lives. Most employees remain silent about their caregiving responsibilities when they are at work as they fear the stigma or being perceived as less than fully engaged and dedicated.  With the weight of caregiving responsibilities, these talented individuals are often strained mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially.  Many either feel forced to cut back to part-time work or eventually resign because the burden just becomes too great.  42% of caregivers report that their financial situation has been negatively affected by their caregiving duties.

Jason Resendez, President, and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving shares that: “America has become a nation of caregivers and yet their work often goes unrecognized by employers.  As a result, more than 40% of caregivers over time leave work, stop saving for retirement and go into debt.”  Yes, the financial implications are profound.  An AARP report showed that family caregivers spend roughly 25% of their income on out-of-pocket caregiving expenses.

79% of caregivers do not have access to any caregiver support benefits at their workplaces according to the results of the Homethrive 2021 Employee Caregiver Survey.

So How Can We Become More “Caregiver-Friendly”?

Caregiver benefits fall into several categories:  workplace flexibility, paid time off and paid caregiving leaves, backup care assistance, online resources, support groups, and expert consultations.

The rise of flexible hours and remote work have helped many caregivers to optimally parse their time to be effective in both spheres they serve.  All the same, there are times when intense health issues with the one being cared for calls for an extended break.  Many employers are starting to consider Caregiver Leaves, offering paid time off for several weeks to adjust to a situation where a major family life event has transpired – be it the birth or illness/injury or surgery recovery of a family member – including aging parents (above and beyond unpaid FMLA).

Backup care assistance facilitates an employee being able to call an agency and arrange for paid, substitute in-home or facility-based care – which is especially valuable when a caregiver is required to make periodic business trips.  Access to caregiving resources and counseling can be invaluable in saving caregiver time, research, and effort, and can significantly reduce stress levels for the caregivers, whether offered through an EAP or specialized service.  Support groups for caregivers, either on-line or in the office, provide a safe environment for caregiving employees to share their challenges and insights, and costs the employer little or nothing.

Jennifer Benz, SVP and Communications leader at Segal Benz, an employee benefits firm expresses that: “caregiving programs are an important component in keeping women in the workforce, since caregiving responsibility still falls predominantly on women.  Companies that are interested in retaining women will make this more of a priority.”

At Cornerstone Strategic Alliance, we bring expertise in retention strategies, whether it’s through Employee Engagement Surveys, evaluation of your benefits offerings, or providing program recommendations that address specific people needs you may be facing.  Together,  we can create inclusive and supportive environments where all of your employees can thrive.

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About the Author

Mary Toland Shaw, MHR, SHRM-SCP

Mary Toland Shaw, MHR, SHRM-SCP

Talent Optimization Partner

Mary is an Executive Human Resources professional and coach, bringing 30+ years of experience gained with predominantly fast-growing software solutions companies. Passionate in guiding executive leadership teams in creating initiatives that enhance an internal sense of meaningful purpose and engagement in employees. Unlocking this human component serves as a predominant business results accelerator.