Employees who also serve as caregivers for family members balance a tender line between doing the right thing for their employers and making sure their loved one feels safe while they are at work. Employers increasingly are recognizing not only the strain this balance places on the company, but also on the employee.
When my company was hiring managers, I looked for people with excellent project management experience. Background checks and references indicated our new hires also demonstrated excellent communication and social media skills. They were loyal, and dedicated to our customers undergoing a stressful migration from paper medical charts into electronic software.
By the middle of our second year, we were traveling nationwide when I noticed some signs of trouble. My highly skilled managers were getting sideswiped by family emergency calls. A grandmother called to say he had taken a pill but couldn’t remember what it was. A child with mild autism was getting behind in school and acting out. When it came to family, my company — my own baby — was coming in second. Every one of our managers was a caregiver, including myself.
A friend invited me to join a C-Level support group where I learned my company’s experience with caregivers wasn’t any different than theirs. I just hadn’t learned the secret sauce to managing highly dedicated workers who have had a caregiving role thrown at them. The 10 ideas provided here are a compilation of their successes, and a few I learned along the way.
- Build a caregiver’s plan. Everyone at some time will be a caregiver. Could be for a month to 10 years. The average stint is 4 years. The remaining 9 ideas are how to build this plan.
- Train Managers to watch for signs of caregiver distress. Employees new to caregiving typically talk about their expanded role as caregivers for about 60 days. Fearing they might be perceived as letting down their co-workers, a caregiver may go into hiding, searching for help on the Internet or learning to use new apps on a mobile device. This kind of hiding is much different from employees accessing social media while at work. We talk more about caregiver distress in our podcast, Caregiver Distress.
- Hire a concierge for your company. Caregivers dash out during lunch to check on a loved one. They get stuck in traffic and are delayed returning to the office. A concierge service (professional organizer) picks up the loose ends – dry cleaning, groceries you’ve ordered online, they run to the post office, pick up lunch, or even wait in the DMV line for you. This is no longer just a senior management premium. You decide whether the cost should be offset by employees who use this service, or make it a company benefit. Concierges typically get paid $15/hour for routine tasks. The hourly rate increases, depending on sensitivity and skill.
- Partner with a company that helps employees navigate the health care system. You don’t know red tape until you’re a caregiver. It’s like getting dropped into a foreign country without insider knowledge of codes or jargon, but you will get the silent treatment. Caregivers spend an average of 1.5 hours per day trying to find the best care for their loved one, but also navigating costs in an already overstretched bank account. Nearly everything caregivers need to know for decision making is available on the web, but we all need help to find the coven where it is buried.
- Partner with medical billing advocate. Every action health care providers do comes with a billing code and associated cost. Most benefits managers are not trained to understand these codes, and employees have a 50/50 (some say 80%) chance that the code assigned to your bill is incorrect. A medical billing advocate can speak the language for you, challenge the bills, and help you negotiate lower costs. Most medical billing advocates work on contingency that they will find errors. Typically you pay them 15 to 35 percent of the savings. A few of my favorites are Medical Billing Advocates of America, Alliance of Claims Assistance Professionals, and Healthcare Advocates.
- Identify tools that can help caregivers. First-time caregivers feel like they are reinventing the wheel as they take on caregiving tasks. The truth is that millions of caregivers walked this path before you, some of whom transitioned knowledge into mobile applications, how-to spreadsheets, lists, and caregiver-specific businesses. In The Caregiver’s Toolbox, available at com, my co-author Peter Wong and I provide a list of favorites.
- Host employee resource groups or (ERG). An employee resource group is a company sponsored group that facilitates the exchange of information for a specific audience group. Some groups may be professionals under 30, parents with children, prayer groups. Given 30 – 38% of most company employees are within the caregiver age range, most organizations can easily find an audience. Ask this ERG to develop a list of available resources.
- Host a caregiver pilot program. Recently, we’ve had the privilege to meet caregivers whose employer invites them to come together in small groups. Attendees learn how to use checklists, mobile apps, and tools from The Caregiver’s Toolbox in an eight-session pilot program. I featured some of the most popular apps in Shoot me an email if this is of interest.
- Offer emotional counseling as a benefit. Caregivers often forgo their own needs to take care of a loved one. It’s not uncommon to feel resentful, then feel guilty about being resentful. Emotional stress plus mental and physical stress can occur at the same time. The end result is you’ve got a burned out employee to replace.
- Be bold about your caregiver program. All of your employees are either caregivers, soon to be caregivers, or can share their experience to help others find a balance.
Build a caregiver program. Watch for signs of distress, but most importantly, be bold about launching your caregiver program.
I’m Carolyn Hartley, co-author of The Caregiver’s Toolbox, available at most online bookstores, including Amazon.com.