closeup of elderly hand on cane and younger hand on top Nearly 80{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} of working caregivers either left their jobs during COVID or are considering leaving their jobs because of difficulty balancing work and caregiving. (Photo: iStock)

It’s easy to think of caregiving as an event: a period of time when you have to care for an aging parent, sick spouse, or child and in which your biggest needs are backup care like a babysitter or a home health aid. But this is a mistake. For more people than ever, caregiving is a lifestyle. More than 50 million Americans are caring for their loved ones while also holding down full- or part-time jobs, and 83{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} of them have taken on more caregiving responsibilities during the pandemic. These hours of work combined with hours of caregiving create an array of physical, emotional and financial challenges.

While caregiving can be rewarding, the caregiving lifestyle has a profound impact on every corner of the caregiver’s life, including personal relationships, career progression, mental health and much more.

Related: The next chapter in the caregiver crisis

Employers can no longer think of caregiving as something that happens on their employees’ personal time. As the line between work and home has become increasingly blurred, employers have an opportunity to reframe the way people think about caregiving and to create meaningful changes to the ways in which they support employee caregivers. In perhaps the most competitive job market in living memory, here are a few ways in which employers can stand out from their peers.

Create a culture of shared resiliency

The pandemic revealed how hard the caregiving lifestyle is for working caregivers. Nearly 80{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} of working caregivers either left their jobs during COVID or are considering leaving their jobs because of difficulty balancing work and caregiving. In a culture that emphasizes hard work and self-sacrifice, it is no surprise that employees are reluctant to admit that they are struggling to manage the responsibilities of caregiving and their career, and even harder to imagine speaking up about it at work.

Knowing how many employees are dealing with these challenges, employers who create an environment that encourages employees to voice any worries or frustrations they might have in balancing their priorities do a tremendous service for their employees that can build loyalty and engagement. Managers should be encouraged to check in on employees regularly, make them feel comfortable voicing their concerns, validate their feelings, monitor for any new or significant problems, and promote a culture of flexibility and understanding. Employees who feel they can rely on their managers and each other have an opportunity to build even greater resilience at home and at work.

Double down on mental health

The caregiving lifestyle can also have an immense emotional impact trigger long-lasting mental health issues. Many employees facing mental health challenges need not only help with their own mental health but also help with addressing the underlying caregiving responsibilities that are impacting it.

COVID-19 has only made all of this worse. The statistics are shocking: more than 70{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} of working caregivers report worsening mental health during the pandemic, including 62{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} who report suffering from depression, and a staggering 38{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} report having experienced suicidal thoughts. So many employers have–wisely–focused on mental health benefits and programs.

Given these statistics, there is an opportunity to do even more to promote and engage employees in mental health and behavioral health offerings, including looking at plan design to increase coverage for mental health services. To the extent the caregiving lifestyle is driving this growing mental health crisis, employers can maximize the impact of their mental health programs by recognizing this difficult reality.

Offer targeted help

Quality health care coverage, generous vacation and extended leave offerings are good, but they are not enough. A nationwide survey of employees balancing work and caregiving found that 72{44affb6c5789133b77de981cb308c1480316fee51f5fd5f1575b130f48379a33} of them think their employer could be doing more to support them as a working caregiver. With the emergence of the “caregiver support” industry, employers have the opportunity to provide employees with expert, professional resources to guide them through the responsibilities of caregiving, help navigate troubling or hostile family dynamics and integrate with mental health benefits to address the emotional and mental health problems that often arise.

For more people than ever, caregiving has become a lifestyle. It can dictate the trajectory of an employee’s career path and their personal health and wellbeing. It can be exhausting, overwhelming and distracting, but it does not have be. By taking these steps, employers can make it easier, improve the emotional, mental and financial wellbeing of these employees, increase productivity, recruit, retain top talent and improve the overall culture of their company.

Evan Falchuk is CEO and chairman of Family First.

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