(Photo by Phynart Studio/iStock by Getty Images)

Many employers have caregivers in their workforce and don’t even know it. Few companies collect this kind of demographic data and few caregivers, parents especially, want to volunteer this information for fear they might be deemed less competent or less committed, or both.

Perhaps more surprising is that many employees are caregivers and don’t appreciate it themselves. It’s clear that a person with a young child is a caregiver, or that a person whose elderly parent lives with them is a caregiver, but so is someone who helps an aging parent manage their finances or a parent of a student with a learning disability. These are tasks that require not just time, they’re demanding on physical and mental energy too.

“Caregiving will affect everyone at some point in time,” said Chelsie Mackey, the director of strategic growth for Cariloop, which provides coaching services and help to caregivers who need help doing the work of caregiving, like finding backup child care, tutoring their high schooler, or a navigating Medicare.

I interviewed Mackey and her colleague Melinda Stroda for a webinar hosted by From Day One, titled “Putting a Value on Supporting Employees With Family Care Needs.” Mackey works with Cariloop’s clients, who are typically HR professionals, and Stroda, who is one of Cariloop’s care coaches and is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), works directly with caregivers.

A conversation on caregiving, clockwise from top right: Melinda Stroda and Chelsie Mackey of Cariloop and moderator Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza (Image by From Day One)

Mackey and Stroda made the point that caregiver support is a factor in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and encouraged employers to create what they called a “culture of care,” in which the stigma of caregiving is allayed. “An employee may feel like they will be seen as uncommitted if they have to take mom to a doctor’s office, or I have to pick the kids up from school this week, or maybe feeling like they may not get that promotion because their employer knows that they have a second full-time job of taking care of a loved one,” Mackey said. Fear of penalty, worry that one won’t be taken seriously, lack of flexibility and time one needs to be a caregiver–these happen when caregivers don’t feel supported.

Stroda said employees who work in a culture of care are able to behave and work differently. “I think the ones who feel more comfortable are the ones where the companies have really taken the chance to build employee resource groups (ERGs) for parents or for caregivers, so they have a place where they feel safe, where they can all talk together. And they feel like that’s an important thing to the company.”

Both said that employers should make sure they have varied kinds of support in place, because every caregiver’s needs will be different and everyone’s caregiving needs will change. Mackey said she often hears from clients that their EAPs or subsidized child care benefits aren’t always “equipped to handle the complexity of caregiving journeys.” Employers have to help the caregivers in their ranks and give them the flexibility and freedom to be caregivers, yes, but also have to help them with the caregiving itself.

The benefits to the business are many: Cost savings, employee retention, productivity, and engagement. It’s simple: When employees are less distracted by caregiving duties–like finding child care, touring nursing homes, or helping a spouse through substance-abuse counseling–they can be more present at work.

“One of the biggest ways we can put a value on caregiver support is just all the amount of time that we’re saving employees,” Mackey said. “Whenever caregivers are trying to talk to insurance companies or call providers, day cares, senior-care facilities, a lot of times families can only get in contact with them Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. From an employer’s perspective, employees are doing all these care responsibilities during the week while they’re at their desk or on their job. Productivity is at a low and then presenteeism issues come into play.”

“It really takes that off the plate of the employee, being able to focus on their job, focus on work, focus on being a caregiver,” Stroda added.

If companies fail to support caregivers of all kinds, the business will feel it, said Mackey. “If organizations don’t soon explore how to best support caregivers, they will just continue to face a lot of the turnover challenges that they’ve been experiencing in the past two years.”

Stroda said she has seen the difference having help can make in the mental health of a caregiver. It’s a powerful thing, she said, “being able to be that person to let them know they’re not alone, that those are very normal feelings they’re feeling as they’re going through this journey, and being able to offer them resources.” Stroda added that it’s about helping them “know they’re not alone in their journey.”

Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner who supported this webinar, Cariloop.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Virginia. She writes about the workplace, DEI, hiring, and issues faced by women. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Fast Company, and Food Technology, among others.