This pandemic has impacted the lives of every American, some more severely than others, and is straining our economy in never-before-seen ways. Businesses are fighting day-to-day to stay afloat, with many closing and millions of their employees filing for unemployment. Amid all this chaos, working family caregivers have also been quietly struggling to keep their heads above water as they balance what were already demanding challenges of meeting the requirements of their jobs and caring for loved ones. In fact, it is projected that unaddressed loss of productivity due to caregiving costs businesses an estimated $17.1 billion to $33 billion each year. Today, in the wake of COVID-19, these losses could be much higher if unabated.
One in six Americans in the workforce are also caregivers for an adult, and COVID-19 has exacerbated the stress of caring for a loved one. For example, the 20 hours a week working caregivers spend, on average, providing care has likely increased as they take extra measures to protect themselves and their loved ones from contracting this horrendous virus. Even before the pandemic hit us, a 2017 Harvard Business Review study found that more than 80% of employees who are caregivers said that it impacted their productivity. Most notably, 33% said it affected their ability to do their best work all the time. Imagine what that survey would say today.
As a business owner, you know that your employees are your greatest asset. Now is an opportunity to support your workers who are also our nation’s caregivers. Here are six steps that you can take.
1. Clearly communicate with your employees.
In times like these, there is no such thing as overcommunication. Give your employees real-time updates on your business, the steps you are taking to support those that have caregiving responsibilities, and your plans for keeping them up-to-speed during this unpredictable time. There are many resources to guide you in this process, including the Ragan Consulting Group’s “9 steps for communicating with employees during the COVID-19 crisis.”
2. Make a plan and implement it.
Determine how to adapt your business operations to meet the needs of family caregivers and begin doing so. Steps should include incorporating practices like cross-training to back-stop essential duties and preparing for employee absences due to personal illness or caring for ill family members. For more resources and guidance, check out the Small Business Caregiving Guide.
3. Review your sick leave and remote work policies.
Make sure that they are consistent with recommended guidance and clearly communicate these policies to employees. The U.S. Department of Labor’s resource center on COVID-19 and the American Workplace is a good starting point for your research.
4. Explore flextime, telecommuting or part-time opportunities.
If you currently don’t have caregiver-friendly policies, instituting one or all of these practices can go a long way toward rectifying that. If your business is one that simply cannot implement any of these, be sure to communicate how you are making your workplace safe through other actions, such as deep-cleaning, limiting travel and asking employees to self-quarantine if they feel ill.
5. Understand federal, state, and city-level policies.
There are many programs in place to help you and your employees navigate caregiving responsibilities and costs. For example, California allows paid leave for those who cannot work because they are caring for a seriously ill loved one. Check your city and state government websites for guidance. Public Private Strategies has also developed a comprehensive list of federal, state and local resources.
6. Encourage employees to embrace personal preparedness.
It is crucial that caregivers don’t neglect their own health during this crisis. Advise employees to watch their diet and take time for exercise and sleep. Also, encourage them to take standard steps to prepare for staying at home if needed and make a plan with family members and loved ones for if they get sick.
Whether you are a large corporation or a small business owner, these steps will go a long way in supporting the individuals that you work with and bolstering your business for the long term. COVID-19 has exposed the important role that small businesses and employers play in our society. By focusing on your employees who are also family caregivers, you can help your employees, communities and bottom line at the same time.