Piling Canada

Accommodating Caregivers in the Workplace

Not everyone realizes they are caregivers
Written by Barb Feldman
January 2024

According to Statistics Canada, in 2022, more than six million Canadians combined paid work with some level of unpaid care, about one-third of Canada’s total workforce. Almost half are part of the “sandwich generation,” caring for aging parents or in-laws, and children under 18.

However, workers also care for others who may need help because of disabilities, chronic illnesses, injuries or other health crises.

In Ontario alone, 2.5 million working caregivers provide unpaid support for activities of daily living or support the physical and/or mental health of a family member, partner, friend or neighbour, says Amy Coupal, CEO of Ontario Caregiver Organization (OCO).

“It’s important to understand that everyone’s caregiving experience is unique, not only because of their own individual circumstances, but the individual circumstances of the person that they’re caring for,” said Coupal.

However, the OCO’s 2022 Spotlight Survey did find some commonalities. Almost three-quarters of the caregivers who responded to the annual survey said that they had made job changes, ranging from working with their employer to find a way to balance work and caregiving responsibilities, moving to part-time work, taking paid or unpaid leave, or even quitting a job for a while to manage their caregiving duties. One in three working caregivers reported that they were worried about losing their jobs, and 30 per cent had considered leaving their jobs because of caregiving responsibilities. Ten per cent said that they had turned down job opportunities.

Covers of various Ontario Caregiver Organization (OCO) studies and reports.

Many prefer to keep their personal lives separate from work, and it can be challenging to tell an employer about a caregiving role, the OCO report says. Still, when work responsibilities compete with those of caregiving, it can impact caregivers’ physical and mental health.

“More than half reported that balancing those two roles is stressful,” she said. “And some likened it to having another full-time job.”

The survey says that “the rate of caregiver distress is going up steadily every single year,” and burnout is at an all-time high (even higher than during the height of the pandemic). “Yet many caregivers continue to go unseen and under-supported in the workplace,” said Coupal.

Planning for unpredictability can make a big difference

While the top three things caregivers say they need most are respite, mental health support and peer support, about half also wish for more support from their employer, including financial aid and better access to information about employee benefits and federal and provincial financial support.

“Awareness is a great place to start,” said Coupal. “That is, recognizing the practical reality of people’s lives, building an understanding of caregiving across the workforce, and telling employees specifically what the company’s stance is on caregiving and what support is available for caregivers.

“Appointments or procedures can be planned for, but things come up unexpectedly that can affect an individual’s ability to arrive or stay at work.”

“Many caregivers continue to go unseen and under-supported in the workplace.”

Amy Coupal, Ontario Caregiver Organization

An employer planning for that unpredictability can also make a big difference. That might include providing technology to support off-site work, online scheduling systems to enable employees to log in for shift requests or changes, or even something as simple as designating times and areas where caregivers can make private phone calls without judgment or repercussions.

Sectors like construction, which require in-person work, may experience challenges implementing certain kinds of accommodations, Coupal says, but there are practical things that management and workers can explore, such as flex hours or shifts, job-sharing, allowing a certain number of sick days to be eligible as caregiving days, or offering the opportunity for short- or long-term paid or unpaid leave when someone is in a significant caregiving time of their life.

The OCO also advises employees to find out if they are eligible for the federal government’s leave benefits and financial assistance, such as the Employment Insurance’s Caregiving Benefits and Leave or Compassionate Care Leave coverage, if they must take time away from work to provide care or support to a child or adult who is critically ill or injured, or need time to provide full-time support for someone who requires end-of-life care. Workers may also be eligible for unpaid, job-protected family caregiver leave, family medical leave or critical illness leave under their province’s or territory’s employment standards act.

Caregiving skills are highly transferrable to the workplace

“Caregivers bring unique skillsets that positively impact culture, retention and ultimately, the bottom line,” according to a recent study conducted by the Rutgers Center for Women in Business in the U.S. The study says that “soft” skills developed through unpaid caregiving – empathy, efficiency and tenacity, increased ability to prioritize tasks, patience, collaborating, delegating, anticipating needs, being adaptable, emotionally intelligent, and thinking flexibly and strategically – are traditionally less valued than “hard” or technical skills.

“Awareness is a great place to start. That is, recognizing the practical reality of people’s lives, building an understanding of caregiving across the workforce, and telling employees specifically what the company’s stance is on caregiving and what support is available for caregivers.”

Amy Coupal, Ontario Caregiver Organization

However, these skills are core management skills that are highly transferrable to any workplace and are less likely to be replaced by artificial intelligence and machine learning, and are also more difficult to teach through corporate coaching, skills workshops or on-the-job training. According to Carers Canada, a Canadian Home Care Association program, $1.3 billion is lost in workforce productivity in Canada annually due to caregiving demands. When turnover, lost institutional knowledge and absenteeism are factored in, the hidden cost to companies for not supporting caregivers may be even higher.

Unique skillsets that positively impact culture, retention and the bottom line

“The more we acknowledge the things happening in our day-to-day lives, the more robust conversations we can have about how to make caregiving work in our personal lives and also how to be successful at work,” said Coupal. “The ratio of male-to-female caregivers is relatively equal. When we talk about what caregiving is, people who weren’t thinking of themselves in that way realize that they are caregivers. A lot of this is just developing awareness for employees and awareness for employers looking to retain good employees. This is a practical thing that they can do to help enable that.”

The OCO offers workshops and online resources for employees, managers and HR professionals, and maintains a 24-hour Ontario caregiver helpline (1-833-416-2273).Piling Canada

Category: Profile

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