–By Sarah Milanowski, LMSW, CDP, Certified Specialist in Aging, as seen in The Grand Rapids Business Journal
The world’s population of elderly people, those aged 70 and better, will sharply increase as baby boomers enter this age bracket. How we care for our aged population is not something many of us think about on a daily basis. Knowing the baby boomer generation comprises 20% of the US population, why aren’t more businesses talking about caregiving? These are the same people our society has counted on for the past 50 years to carry the US economy through highs and lows.
In recent years, studies have shown that caregiving is overwhelmingly considered to be a mentally and physically taxing activity. 1 in 3 adults in the United States provides care to other adults as informal caregivers. Similarly to families who have children, others in your workforce may be caring for their elder relatives or even friends.
The economic impact of family caregiving is a highly studied topic as it is a huge aspect of people’s lives. The Committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults published their report on the severity of this impact finding the following, “Caregivers of older adults can suffer significant financial consequences with respect to both direct out-of-pocket costs and long-term economic and retirement security. Spouses who are caregivers are especially at risk.” This makes it difficult for caregivers to keep a job in their field and forces them to take lower paying positions with more flexibility due to the need to take time off for caregiving. As you can imagine this then filters through the entire ecosystem: businesses look for skilled labor, communities economically suffer and families barely break even. It is a cyclical effect, but it doesn’t have to operate this way.
If you are a business owner or You might ask yourself, why as a business owner or community member should this matter to me?
- Impact on culture: Being understanding, flexible, and creating a safe space is essential. Knowing that caregiving can be among the most challenging of family responsibilities, having a leadership team that actually sees their employees where they are at, a level of respect is received and given. It also creates a safe space for the employee to work and thrive while dealing with the physically and emotionally draining parts of caregiving. In the time of the great resignation wouldn’t it be nice to spend more energy focusing on what we can control? We can control how we respond to our employees needs, and can set the culture of our organizations.
- Contributions seniors make to the community: According to the Community Living Campaign, “senior citizens are known for exhibiting high levels of proactive social values, meaning they are more engaged in volunteerism, helping where they are able, caring for nature and the environment, endorsing equality and seeking to understand those different from themselves.” These attributes are things that companies and businesses talk all about when “creating a healthy culture” but they are not looking to those who are living it day in and out.
- Current and projected impact to businesses: Creating an inclusive “Caregiver” policy will have a long-lasting impact on business growth through the actions of those needing this help currently. By already having measures in place within your workplace handbook, bylaws, or rules and regulations, you are creating space for your employees to know right away that the organization and leadership team are empathetic and understanding to the human aspects of our lives. This will create a family-friendly workplace culture and in-turn build a team who are happy and willing to step up and help when someone is in need, like perhaps when they have to care for a parent or grandparent.
It is also good to remember, it is not a hindrance to hire someone who is already a caregiver. You can hire them knowing they have a level of empathy, perspective, and organizational skills that other potential candidates may not have. Caregivers know how to get a lot done with limited resources. They also have a high-level of emotional intelligence. They are able to see the good in others, be patient and know how to keep their lives together while simultaneously keeping the life of someone else whom they care for together. Who is to say they won’t apply these same instincts to their job at your company or organization?
Even if you can’t commit to a big culture shift today, you can do more than offer a remote Employee Assistance Program. You can connect team members to resources that are helping your community now. There are service organizations throughout West Michigan who would be happy to share their program and resource information with you and your teams. LifeCircles and likely many other agencies would be glad to host office hours in your break rooms or virtually. If you’d like to learn more please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the hunt for skilled labor and workers in this country forges on, I implore you to consider these folks when they apply. Rather than viewing gaps on someone’s resume as a detriment, ask them to highlight the important lessons and transferrable skills they developed during that time. Don’t miss out on the opportunity that lies before you. Cultivating a culture of flexibility, compassion and inclusiveness will benefit your entire organization. Sure things come up but they come up for everyone and we are all human so refocus what you see as “good for business” and think about the grace that was or was not given to you when you have been in the same position.
It is not a hindrance to hire someone who is already a caregiver. You can hire them knowing they have a level of empathy, perspective, and organizational skills…Sarah Milanowski, LMSW, CDP, Certified Specialist in Aging