Addressing the caretaker conundrum

by Oct 5, 2023

It’s estimated that up to 73% of the workforce is impacted by caregiving needs. Whether an aging parent, new baby, differently abled family member, or someone else, those needing extra support deserve the attention — as do those providing it. But the stress of caring for another person can be overwhelming in itself — and overlooked.  

Related: What are the work determinants of wellbeing? 

To put it into perspective, in 2020 AARP reported that out of 48 million caretakers giving support to someone over 18:  

  • 24% are caring for more than one person, up from 18% in 2015 
  • 23% say caregiving has made their health worse, up from 17% in 2015 
  • Family caregiving spans all generations, including Boomers, Gen-X, Gen-Z, Millennials, and Silent 
  • More than 60% of caretakers work full-time  

Not to mention, parents alone are a major chunk of today’s workforce — to the tune of 73% of moms and 93% of dads in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.  

How can employers and wellbeing providers ensure these groups are filling their cups first? It starts by recognizing this “caretaker conundrum.” 

What is the caretaker conundrum? 

The caretaker conundrum refers to the guilt a caretaker may feel if they don’t devote enough time, attention, energy, and/or resources to the person they’re watching over. This, combined with the inner regret of not prioritizing themselves, creates a “conundrum” that’s hard to address, leading to stress, anxiety, burnout, and sometimes resentment toward the other people or an employer.  

One in five caregivers also feel money pressure due to the needs of their loved one, which adds a layer of pressure to perform well at work, despite feeling exhausted. This can create a cycle of neglect to the caregiver’s health and wellbeing, which can spiral into deeper medical obstacles and challenges that further perpetuate this cycle. How do you put yourself first when you’re too tired to do it in the first place? 

This is all why it’s paramount to not discount the emotional toll of supporting a loved one. Most of us do it in some capacity every single day. It can, at times, be as big a lift as medically or physically providing for someone else or as small as supporting a colleague through a challenging transition.  

Impact on your workforce 

Caregivers often have an ongoing tape in their minds, listing off to-dos that have nothing to do with work … but have everything to do with productivity, presence, and quality of their tasks. When an employee feels overwhelmed at home, it’s difficult to switch gears and show up to the workplace as their best selves. Unsupported caretakers may feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or isolated because of their caregiving responsibilities. The “invisible toll” of those responsibilities can weigh on focus at work, impacting concentration, deadlines, and collaboration. A tired mind is more likely to make mistakes, which worsens that cycle of overwhelm and frustration that a caretaker may feel behind closed doors. 

Related: 3 ways to invest more in your employees

Bottom line? A lack of support for caregivers can directly impact a company’s productivity and profitability. Gallup-Healthways found that missed hours due to caregiving duties costs companies more than $25 billion(!) in lost productivity. This includes: 

  • Absenteeism ($5.1 billion) 
  • Shifts from full-time to part-time work ($4.8 billion) 
  • Replacing employees ($6.6 billion) 
  • Workday adjustments ($6.3 billion) 

How can we as leaders reverse this trend and offer a helping hand to the biggest helpers at our organization? 

How to support your caretakers 

Whether you’re a caretaking decision-maker or simply a decision-maker, here are some ways to fold more support into your employee offerings: 

Invest in a wellbeing solution  

Focus on wellbeing providers that integrate with other third-party vendors, such as caretaking-specific providers, and offer a tailored experience that can speak to each member on a personal level. This allows you to offer a well-rounded wellbeing journey to each employee.  

Offer a listening ear

Many are hesitant to address their at-home situation with an employer for fear of discrimination or judgment. HR teams can address this by publicly acknowledging the demands of caretaking and create an open space for everyone to talk about their needs. Adopting these type of soft skills when interacting with employees (aka humans) can help strip away any preconceived notions or fears around showing up to work as our true selves.

Explore flexible scheduling 

AARP reports that informal caregivers spend an average of 24 hours per week providing care. By opening the conversation up to the possibility of adjusted schedules, it can create an environment where people can get their at-home and at-work needs met. 

Provide actionable resources 

Take one thing off the caregiver’s plate by doing research for them. Often finding the solution is harder than using it.  

Facilitate employee connection 

Bonding over similar life circumstances is a strong tool in eliminating feelings of isolation and lack of belonging. Facilitate virtual or in-person group activities to help employees reach out to those in related situations.  

Start from the top 

Most of you are undoubtedly caretakers yourselves. Vulnerability is a strong trait of a strong leader, so start by sharing your experience with your team.

The caretaker conundrum is not an easy situation, but it is possible to find a balance between caring for your loved one and caring for yourself. Remember you are not alone; you deserve respect and compassion for the valuable work you do. 

To learn more about how Sonic Boom Wellness can support your employees, launch them into improved wellbeing at work, and integrate with third-party vendors, connect with our team.