7 min read

Employee Caregiver Advocacy is a Conversation

Employee Caregiver Advocacy is a Conversation

For employees and employers, work environments changed irrevocably following the COVID-19 pandemic. Working from home and hybrid work options are now a standard for many businesses. However, like responses to the pandemic itself, our new work ecosystem continues to present many unknowns that result in a collective, “how will I/we ever manage this?” for both parties.

Companies attempting to recruit people physically back to work, at the very least in a hybrid model, should be acknowledging unknowns holistically, and considering how the personal lives of employees have changed.

As the rubber band of society attempts to snap back towards some version of “normal” and business’ physical locations have reopened doors to workers, there is a responsive hesitancy for employees to request continued flexibility in the work location. 

Since the summer of 2021, many organizations ranging from small, ten-person teams to mega companies like Boeing, have engaged in conversations with employees about returning to work and priorities involving childcare. Such a forward-thinking strategy was meant to prevent stress for parents when it was back to school time at summer’s end. However, in that summer and each year since, employees have remained hesitant to ask for caregiving schedule accommodations.

The Fear of Asking


Many employees fear discussing alternative schedules and work locations. They often consider, “Why would my company keep me if I require specific arrangements versus another employee who doesn’t?”

Consider, for instance, COVID-19’s residual impact on caregivers’ needs. Some took a loved one in because they were able to work from home. Others removed their loved ones from a facility out of understandable concern around that type of environment during a pandemic. In many cases, a caregiver already in the household took on extra duties.

The stigma of asking your employer to allow you work flexibility for a caregiver role persists despite the shifting employment landscape. Workers feel that asking to stay at home to care for a child is more palatable than the same request to take care of an elderly loved one. 

What hasn’t changed is the existence of and need for caregivers in our society. 

Consider a few telling stats from The Global Carer Well-Being Index:

  • 39% of carers in the U.S. say the person(s) they care for is/are relying on them more than ever before
  • 48% of carers are caring for their parents
  • 67% of carers are the primary unpaid carer for a household member
  • 81% of carers say connecting with other carers who are going through similar situations always makes them feel better
  • 94% of carers say the important role they play is not widely recognized by society

If You Don’t Ask, The Answer Is Always, “No”

Caregiven encourages employee-caregivers to ask employers for flexibility. People feeling empowered by sharing what they experience personally as it relates to impacting their work will help promote a better-balanced work environment. 

Caregiven also supports HR departments, which have many programs already able to accommodate caregivers in Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) but might not yet be equipped to easily communicate those support lines to employees.

Involving HR department staff and employees in constructive conversations builds a foundation to support meeting the massive need for caregivers faced by our society. Considering another’s perspective creates empathy; that sentiment, as rooted in organizational culture,  results in better business outcomes.

Confronting the Stigmas

As an employee, it’s a much more common conversation to say, “My baby needs me,” than, “My mom has dementia, lost her spouse, and is going through a transitional time worrying about living on her own for the first time in 35 years.”

How do we start these conversations and/or how does an employer invite those discussions? 

The majority of employee-caregivers make up the Sandwich Generation — people in their 40s who need to be proactive for parents in their 70s and 80s, yet have children under 18 living at home. Employees still struggle to receive acceptable maternity and paternity leave, and benefits on the whole typically only relate to childcare. Guilt exists where employees feel like neglectful parents for working instead of staying home with their children and are faced with extra worry regarding caring for an elderly parent. 

Another issue to be aware of is the difference in employment structures. If a salaried professional doesn’t work between 4:00 and 6:00 pm because they’re taking a child to a doctor's appointment, said parent-employee may be approved to work outside of 6:00 pm to compensate for lost time. Diversely, a significant portion of the working population lacks that flexibility. If they miss one or two shifts, their job is at risk because it is seen as unacceptable to approach a manager for accommodation. A number of industries still adhere to regimented on-site work schedules.

Salaried professionals in leadership positions also face work schedule challenges, just slightly different in context. Imagine being a senior director at a marketing agency with significant corporate clients. Communicating caregiving issues among staff may tarnish people’s impression of the work delivered. It is not unlikely for professionals in this category to ultimately quit their high-stress, high-paying jobs to be a caregiver, yet still face returning to a changed work environment years later.

It’s Difficult to Ask for Help… But It Doesn’t Have to Be

Advocating as an Employer

If you have 50 employees and 10 of them are informal caregivers, the bottom-line financial impact on your company is lost productivity. Good companies care about employees as people. One in every five employees, 20% of the workforce, cares for an aging or ailing adult. Between 50-70% of informal caregivers may be diagnosed with depression, which might affect other staff and could create multiple employee health claims deemed dismissible by insurers.

When work drops in quality and employees aren’t performing at their best, employers still must be careful in asking for personal information. Further, HR sometimes lacks a comprehensive understanding of all the resources within their offered benefit packages or may be wary of suggesting they have a product available through EAP that could address caregiving needs. 

Employers are challenged to acquire the information they need to adequately help employees without prying. Often, the responsibility of reviewing EAP offerings is left to an already stressed employee. Alternatively, helpful phrasing by HR might be  "Did you know that through our EAP, you have access to an elder caregiver tool?”

Thinking through the lens of caring for an adult and how an EAP could help families with elder caregiving responsibilities is a start.

Self-Advocating as an Employee 

Saying, "My mom has dementia," is more difficult than, “My son has an upcoming surgery.” Yet what percentage of employees have children versus what percentage of employees have parents who do or will need care? 

  • All Types of Care — Research shows that 73% of all employees have some type of current caregiving responsibility. This could include an aging parent, a friend with an illness or disability, a sibling recovering from injury, a dependent child…any person in need of care.
  • Caring for a Parent — Meanwhile, 42% of all caregivers are caring for a parent — which, as a portion of the 73% above, would suggest that 30% of all employees are likely to be caring for a parent.
  • Caring for a Child — Other data sources indicate roughly 40% of employees have a child under age 18 at home.

Percentages show a substantial portion of the workforce is involved in caring for aging parents, and it’s an even larger group when we consider those who will need to provide care at some point in the future.

While you're caring for another adult, it doesn't mean that you're not managing logistics, emotions, and finances, including someone else's or your own. Caregivers have much less control when caring for an elderly or a sick person than their own child. No one can anticipate mom calling in the middle of a breakdown, even though she doesn't want to bother you. 

Here are a few ways to start the conversation with your employer and advocate for your caregiving needs with regard to an aging parent or relative. Asking for flexibility to care for a loved one should be no different than any other caregiving circumstance:

How Do Women in the Workplace Find Advocates? Start with Caregiven

Caregiven strives to share tools which identify needs and source solutions within existing ecosystems, similar to a translation device. In healthcare, what tools exist to help us navigate Medicare? It's not by getting Medicare to change; rather, it's by understanding the rules and modifying them to your needs.

Access Caregiven here for guidance and support

Whether you are an HR representative or a hesitant employee-caregiver, we’re here to help you condense the complex into more simple elements. 

How can you create opportunities for employees to strike a work-life balance that promotes retention? The financial well-being of your employees is a priority for everyone, but the situation remains particularly challenging for women.

“Where are all the female leaders?” Oftentimes the answer is: taking care of an elderly parent. The average cost of caregiving on a woman’s lifetime earnings, according to the Department of Labor, is now $295,000 (as of 2023). The recent DOL report shows how caregiving, both for children and for aging parents, affects women over the course of a career, cutting into retirement savings, wages, and promotions. When caring for an aging or ailing loved one, women struggle to ever recover from income and benefit losses. 

Millennial caregivers made up about 25% of caregivers in 2020. Given the near-even split between male and female caregivers, we will see roughly 50% of men and 50% of women becoming primary caregivers as the aging population grows. Individuals living longer with multiple chronic conditions, more Millennials will enter this role, and we can expect the same negative financial implications. 

If you exit employment for a year and subsequently lose health benefits and income to support your aged care recipient, what happens when that person passes away? Your return to an ever-evolving workforce will likely include waiting a minimum of six months for health benefits. 

We can begin to repair a broken caregiving system with momentum from workplace changes. As the Care Economy Business Council stated succinctly: “Our economy cannot reach its full potential without women, and women cannot reach their full potential without a reimagining of care.”

You Also Have a Friend in HR

We encourage employee-caregivers to embrace any opportunity within the company culture to speak up about their needs, and this will culminate from thoughtful leadership. HR should be clear in expressing, for instance, “Through our EAP, you have financial planning resources available specific to caring for an elderly loved one.” HR managers should apply the same support principles used for caregivers as utilized around mental health or a child with special needs. etc.

Additionally, address how tuition reimbursement helps if an employee wants to take caregiving classes. Consider offering a top-down employee benefit package assessment by identifying how resources manifest in elder and adult caregiving scenarios. Some employers organize groups for caregivers and bring in topical speakers for lunch-and-learns, through which the entire workplace has an opportunity to recognize the stresses elder caregiving may generate. As a business leader, through recognizing employee needs, you will help create a community of stakeholders who look out for one another. 

Let Your Voice Be Heard 

Forward-thinking companies have been shifting culture since prior to the global pandemic. AllVoices provides an innovative, anonymous platform where employees communicate concerns, share ideas, and ask questions without fear of retaliation. 

Caregiven and other humanist, employee-centric companies are positioned as the devices to translate the complexities of caregivers' lives and HR program benefits in ways that sponsor dialogue and productive changes.