Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, employee demand for caregiving benefits was on the rise. A growing retirement-age population coupled with more households featuring two working spouses highlighted this growing need for caregiver-employee support in Wellable’s 2020 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report. Now, many of the pandemic’s impacts—such as closed schools and childcare centers, as well as heightened concerns over the health of the elderly—have increased the burdens of caregiving endured by workers.

Statistics from the Family Caregiver Alliance show that one in six working adults provides care for an ill or elderly family member, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than six out of ten married-couple families have both adults employed. As many employees switched to working remotely from home, these workers only added more caregiving responsibilities on top of their daily routine. Similar to other recent changes in how people work, COVID-19 has accelerated the demand for and importance of caregiving benefits.

According to a survey by the Northeast Business Group on Health (NEBGH), caregiving benefits were already on the rise. Of large companies surveyed, 35% offer caregiving benefits and 28% are considering adding them in the upcoming year. The vast majority of respondents (79%) believed that these benefits will become an increasingly important issue in the next five years, and most (61%) consider offering these benefits a top priority. Only 22% see themselves as below average when it comes to what they currently offer.

Businesses are also becoming more aware that caregiving can affect a worker’s productivity and performance due to the strain and stress it may cause on an individual’s financial, physical, mental, and emotional wellness. Since 2017, 12% more of respondents to NEBGH’s survey have added paid leave for caregiving, and 9% more (up to 84% total) believe a caregiving-friendly workplace will attract and retain more talent. Benefits managers also expressed interest in increasing access to flexible work arrangements.

At the start of the pandemic, many companies stepped up to help their workers meet increased caregiving demands with more flexible hours, backup care, and access to expert resources. Microsoft provided parents with 12 weeks of paid time off to deal with school closures, while insurance provider TIAA increased contributions to their backup care benefit from $65 per day to $100. However, increased support may be needed even after the present crisis.

Continuing Support After The Pandemic

About 20% of daycares are not expected to open up after the COVID-19 pandemic according to data collected by Kinside, a childcare benefit provider. If this is the case, businesses should prepare for their working parents’ increased caregiving responsibilities to continue. Without childcare, many will be making difficult decisions about quitting jobs or reducing work hours. Even for those that choose to stay at work, it may be that their spouse had to quit a job or alter their schedule in order to take care of the kids, resulting in new financial strains and added stress.

For employees that frequently visit or care for elderly or ill family members, it may be difficult for them to choose to come back into work. These workers will likely want to continue to reduce their chances for exposure, in fear that they could pass something onto the individual in their care. Especially for employees that were able to successfully transition to working remotely, it would be appropriate to continue those flexible work arrangements so they may minimize in-person interactions.

Without the right support, workers may struggle with continued financial strain, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and even physical health problems—leading to poor focus, reduced engagement, and more sick days and time off. However, employers that are able to meet the needs of caregiver-employees will likely suffer less losses in productivity and performance.

According to the 2020 Employee Wellness Industry Trends Report, the most popular caregiving benefits are flexible work schedules (84%), remote work (67%), and paid time off (53%). COVID-19 has forced many employers to offer all three of these benefits, at least in the short-term. Once the limitations of social distancing are lifted and employees are able to go back to work, employers will be asked to extend these benefits. The ones that choose to do so will become more competitive in recruiting and retaining talent. For companies that already relied on these benefits to attract talent, they will need to expand benefits in other areas to further differentiate themselves.

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