While being a caregiver can be rewarding in many ways, it can also be incredibly stressful. This is especially true for people who don’t necessarily think of themselves as caregivers. For example, someone who works a full-time job during the day and then goes to tend to a parent or grandparent’s needs may simply think of this as “lending a hand” rather than caregiving. In some respects, however, these part-time caregivers are at an even greater risk of suffering from strain and burnout because they may not recognize the symptoms.
What is Caregiver Strain?
Unfortunately, too much stress can have a negative impact on a person’s physical and psychological health. Learning how to identify the symptoms of caregiver strain is important to help prevent negative health outcomes and make sure that aging family members are still able to get the care they require.
Symptoms of Caregiver Strain
- Constant fatigue.
- Weight fluctuation.
- Loss of interest in favorite activities.
- Frequent headaches or other chronic pain.
- Irregular sleep patterns.
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worrying.
- Alcohol or drug use (including prescription medication).
Left unattended, caregiver strain can lead to more serious symptoms associated with depression. Identifying the early warning signs can help caregivers take actions to relieve their stress and avoid becoming resentful toward the aging loved ones depending upon them.
Caregiver Strain and the Workplace
According to AARP research, one in six US employees spends an average of 20 hours each week providing caregiving assistance of some kind to a friend or relative. Among those employees, almost half of them are frequently late to work, have to leave early, or take time off due to these responsibilities. In addition to the time missed from work, caregivers can also end up costing their employers significantly due to the strain on their health. On a per-employee basis, caregivers cost an estimated eight percent more than non-caregivers in healthcare costs.
Of the 40 million family caregivers in the US, about a quarter of them belong to the Millennial generation, and more than half of them are also the sole caregiver for their loved one. The generational breakdown is significant because Millennials also happen to be the largest age cohort currently in the workforce. Their caregiving burden is only expected to increase in the coming years since the entire Baby Boomer generation (who are their parents or grandparents) will be at least 65 years old by the year 2030. As more people in their prime working years take on caregiving duties, it’s essential for employers to take those responsibilities into consideration when crafting work policies and offering benefits.
What Employers Can Do for Employee Caregivers
Unfortunately, caregiving employees are not always forthcoming about their situation. If no one knows that someone is missing time to tend to the needs of an aging loved one, employers may interpret that absenteeism as a lack of commitment to their job. In some cases, employees are hesitant to speak up about their caregiving responsibilities for fear of being penalized or even fired because of them. While there are some legal protections against caregiver discrimination (legally known as family responsibilities discrimination), federal and state laws do not define working caregivers of older adults as a specific group or class that requires explicit protection.
Employers need to be aware of the unique challenges facing caregivers and make sure they’re providing the resources and support employees need. Here are a few policies that can be implemented to make work easier for caregivers.
1. Emphasize job performance in employee evaluations
This allows caregivers to meet their job responsibilities without having to conform to (potentially outdated) models of what makes a “good employee” (such as always showing up early and staying late).
2. Offer flexible work hours
Options like flex-time, compressed workweeks (such as working four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days), or work-from-home days can help employees meet the needs of their aging loved ones more easily and reduce the potential for caregiver burnout.
3. Eliminate “no-tolerance” absentee penalties
Restrictive systems that penalize hourly employees for being late or having to call out are especially challenging for caregivers. Eliminating these penalties can provide them the flexibility they need to care for their aging loved ones without having to worry about being fired for unexpected absences or tardiness.
4. Develop and implement caregiver-focused training programs
It’s important to educate direct supervisors and managers about the special needs of caregiver employees. Raising awareness within the organization not only makes company policy on the issue clear to everyone, but also raises awareness to avoid situations where employees may feel resentful of caregivers receiving what they perceive to be “special treatment.”
5. Provide caregiver support resources as part of an employee benefits package.
Supportive programs that offer specialized resources and expertise can reduce caregiver strain, improve retention, and help employees remain productive as they tend to the needs of the aging adults in their life. Caregiver services like Homethrive can provide employees with access to advice and tools that make it easier for them to focus on their full-time job while helping their aging loved ones maintain their health and independence.
Overcoming Caregiver Strain with Homethrive
Homethrive’s supportive services provide peace of mind for families by giving them easy access to one of our experienced Homethrive Care Guides. Each Care Guide is an experienced, master’s level social worker who not only understands the unique personal and clinical needs of your aging loved ones, but also how caregiver strain can negatively impact your health and mental wellbeing.
With multiple tiers of service, Homethrive can help caregiver employees develop a realistic plan for establishing a healthy work/life balance. Our Care Guides deliver personalized advice and coaching to overcome the many challenges associated with caring for an aging loved one while still maintaining a full-time job. To learn more about how Homethrive can benefit your employees and protect them from caregiver strain, contact us today to choose the benefits package that’s right for your business.