One of the issues that hasn’t surfaced over the debate about health care is the need to provide support for caregivers. An estimated 6.1 million Americans care for older relatives or friends. Caregiving cost companies $3.6 billion a year.
The cost is not just in hard dollars but in productivity lost. According to a June 2011 report by MetLife Mature Market Institute, the percentage of age 50 and older adult children taking care of parents has tripled since 1994.
I know the demands. I am one of the caregivers. I’m also lucky. I don’t have to raise the issue with my manager. I double up on my work when time must be spent with mom. But for other employees, there’s a great fear that caregivers will be regarded as not committed when they need to take time off for their loved one. Workers are often reluctant to even talk about family issues for t
he fear that it would hamper their career progression or bring out an awareness that multiple demands are pulling on their attention.
Caregiving is unpredictable. I have been called to take mom to the hospital at odd hours of the night. I now have call waiting on my telephone for the sole purpose of being interrupted if mom needs me. Just when I think that mom is stable and I can hold my phone conversation with a client, an emergency arises.
In too many organizations, work is viewed as a singular all-encompassing line. Leaders need to ask themselves if there is an unspoken culture that devalues and penalizes workers who also must juggle these demands. Somehow, we seem to understand the demands of raising a child but the more complicated demands of caring for an aging loved one defy our comprehension.
Maybe it will take leaders to experience the caregiving role in order to understand the draining and paradoxically rewarding task of caregiving. But I think leaders can’t wait. It is time to start a conversation about what issues your team faces outside of the world of work. With compassion, caring, and consideration, an organization who acknowledges and supports the role of caretakers will be the company of choice for job seekers and customers.