For many women, the time they devote to caregiving is the equivalent of a full-time job. This has economic repercussions, as lost income is linked to career choices that are influenced by the physical and time-intensive nature of caregiving. Balancing work and home responsibilities is a major obstacle to reaching gender parity in the workplace, caused by too many women having to leave the workplace altogether or “apply the brakes” on progressing in their career – being compelled to accept lesser roles to facilitate being both home caregiver and income provider.
“Balancing work and home responsibilities is a major obstacle to reaching gender parity in the workplace, caused by too many women having to leave the workplace altogether…”
What is caregiving?
Caregivers, either in a paid position or those with unpaid home responsibilities, provide necessary support to someone who, due to age, illness, disability, or some other factor, cannot care for themselves. Caregiving may involve shopping, housekeeping, providing transportation, feeding, bathing, toilet assistance, dressing, walking, coordinating appointments and medical treatments, or managing a person’s finances.
“This includes childcare, domestic chores, as well as caring for those who are weak, sick and frail in their families. Even before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic…”
African women bear the brunt of family care
Due to prevailing social norms, African women and girls traditionally shoulder the bulk of family care responsibilities. This includes childcare, domestic chores, as well as caring for those who are weak, sick and frail in their families. Even before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has worsened the situation, an estimated three times more women than men carried out unpaid care and domestic work.
Unpaid and underpaid care work worsens gender inequality
The Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) reports that, “Unpaid care work is both an important aspect of economic activity and an indispensable factor that contributes to the wellbeing of individuals, families and societies. However, unpaid and underpaid care work is a major contributing factor to gender inequality and poverty among women… In most cases, women face a double burden due to multiple-role responsibilities that include being a wife, caregiver, mother and also being an employee.”
How employers can support caregivers coping with relentless responsibilities
While caregiving does not define employee caregivers, many face limitations at work because of their caregiving role. This can contribute to an increased risk of poor health outcomes, which include increased stress, depression and anxiety. Here are some ways that employers can support employees who find themselves caring for a loved one:
- Find out who your caregivers are
Managers can talk to employees in the privacy of one-on-one meetings about their caregiving obligations. This will allow employers to identify individuals who need support in areas such as childcare or eldercare.
- Support and educate your caregivers
Work can act as a relief from home responsibilities, providing a place to socialise and identify with colleagues in the same boat. As an employer, you can work towards creating a supportive atmosphere for caregivers by:
- Organising workplace group discussions where caregivers can share common experiences, coping methods and challenges.
- Offering caregiver workshops where an expert comes in to provide employees with tips and information around caregiving.
- Providing access to experts through an Employee Assistance Programme.
- Offering financial planning seminars and assistance in retirement planning, long-term care, living wills, estate planning, and other legal services.
- Provide virtual health care services
Telehealth can increase access to medical and dental consultations and treatments, which can be of help to employees with caregiving responsibilities.
- Offer adaptable work arrangements
This can make a meaningful difference for working caregivers in two ways:
- Remote work options. While more employees are working from home since the start of the pandemic, providing this option as a long-term arrangement can bring vital flexibility to employees who double as caregivers.
- Flexible work schedules. If an employee is working from home and caring for a child or family member, a nine to five schedule will not necessarily line up with competing demands. Consider offering flexible work hours to help with employees’ personal situations and allow for their unique caretaking needs.
What are the benefits of supporting employee caregivers?
Employee support nurtures loyalty. When employees have access to the right kind of support and timely assistance, they are more likely to stay. They are also more likely to be focused and engaged at work. Here are five more benefits found in supporting employee caregivers:
- Attracts and retains top talent
Talent is hard to find and difficult to keep. Offering a family caregiving benefit is one way to excel at recruiting because your organisation will appeal to candidates who value an employer with compassion, a concern for families and a sense of community.
- Increases productivity
Caregiving can take up a lot of time and energy that takes time away from the workday, decreasing productivity and increasing employee stress. With caregiving support, know-how and benefits on offer, employees feel seen, valued and supported in a way that matters most to them. As a result, business productivity will flourish.
- Improves employee wellbeing
Caregiving can be a time-consuming and emotionally draining responsibility. Family caregiving support and information can help to lessen some of this burden and improve employee wellbeing.
- Supports maintaining a work-life balance
When employees feel that they have no choice but to put others’ care ahead of self-care, it can translate into mental and physical health issues such as exhaustion, depression, and anxiety. These issues will ultimately inflate your organisation’s healthcare costs. By proactively acknowledging the needs and responsibilities of family caregivers and offering tangible support, your employees will be empowered to find a better balance between work and life, alleviating exhaustion and burnout.
- Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash