Supporting Working Caregivers: Beyond the Push to Get “Back to Normal”

A recent email started like this: “I have had a few situations recently where managers are becoming impatient with employees who are parents, feeling that the pandemic is over and the desire to get “back to normal.”  The sentiment is very real and understandable, compounded by pressure from the top, but for caregivers, life is not normal, and many of the challenges presented by the pandemic endure. The incidence of serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety remains at crisis levels. Concerns about kids’ learning gaps and mental health, persistent illnesses and sick days, the specter of layoffs, confusing return to office messaging and plans, and economic instability have all impacted retention, advancement and efforts to make organizations more equitable and inclusive.

Caregivers represent an essential portion of your workforce, whether we realize it or not. Many of those who have caregiving responsibilities are invisible in the workplace; researchers estimate that while 73% of the workforce identify as caregivers, only 56% of them say their work supervisor is aware of their caregiving responsibilities—a phenomenon Julia Cohen Sebastien, CEO of caregiver-support platform Grayce, has described as “quiet caregiving.”

To better support working caregivers, organizations can take action, starting with listening to employees and what their needs are - through surveys, focus groups, 1:1 chats, and meetings with ERGs. A holistic effort is required as no two situations are alike. The life stage of the employee and who they are caring for will have a significant impact on their needs. What’s important is to have options people can choose from to help make their own unique situation better - a menu of benefits and support so they can choose what they need most to continue balancing caregiving and their career.

Of note, many organizations had some of these supports in place before the pandemic started. Recent efforts have focused on supplementing those services and rebranding, repackaging and re-communicating them to meet employees when and where they can have the most impact.

  • Flexibility: Remote and hybrid work and the 4-day workweek have all been featured in the headlines, but what is it that caregivers really want and need when it comes to new work models? Oftentimes it is a more incremental flexibility to attend to outside responsibilities. Communication is key here - checking in with employees and asking about their flexibility needs and determining whether the work can be accomplished in that manner (with emphasis on the work). Company-wide return to office edicts can be a source of stress: encourage managers to be adaptable whenever possible. Providing time off options like caregiver leave and mental health days can help when there is a crisis or need for a period of time away to prevent burnout.
  • Well-Being and Mental Health: Mental health was a growing concern before the pandemic and now it has become critical for organizations to address. Whether it is promoting the use of existing EAP and behavioral health services for the whole family, adding digital solutions for care management, counseling and coaching, or offering workshops on mindfulness or self-care, organizations are investing more. Promoting a culture of acceptance around mental health may include increasing training to prepare well-being ambassadors throughout the organization and efforts to decrease stigma.
  • Care Support: Companies are increasing the availability of childcare support in the aftermath of the pandemic, which severely diminished the number of providers. Trends include increasing back-up care benefits, finding providers close to home to accommodate hybrid schedules, a broadening of provider networks, discounts for tutoring, or services to help parents evaluate and assist with delays or setbacks their children may have experienced due to the pandemic. Benefits like fertility support, gender-neutral parental leave offerings, lactation services and new parent coaching and support can assist those at the beginning of their parental journey. Recognize that not all caregivers are parents with young children; many employees have eldercare responsibilities or care for a spouse, a relative with a chronic health condition, or a young adult with special needs.
  • Financial Support: Working parents are feeling the strain of inflation, with 64% wanting overtime or extra shifts, 47% looking for an extra job, and 43% looking for a higher-paying job, significantly more than the general employee population. Employers are responding with an array of solutions to support financial well-being. These include subsidies to pay for childcare to all employees across the board or based on income, providing more help to those who need it most. Free tutoring services or flexible contributions that can be used to pay for summer camps and enrichment programs have also grown more prevalent. Financial planning services and counseling, Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts, and 529 plan contributions can alleviate some of the associated stress.
  • Leadership and Culture: Leadership has a big role to play in establishing a caring culture and acknowledging the challenging times for caregivers right now. They can do this by sharing their own stories, in a blog, video or at a Town Hall meeting. They can also help by being transparent about the transition back to the office and encouraging managers to be flexible and empathic in how they implement this process. Underpinning all of this is the organizational culture - and trying to foster an environment where employees feel like they can be vulnerable and share their challenges, and that they will be listened to and respected without jeopardizing their career advancement.
  • Community Support: The need for community right now cannot be overstated. A forum where caregivers can find validation for what they are going through, bounce ideas off of one another, and learn more about the supports that the company is offering can really help. Connections can be facilitated through ERGs/affinity groups, lunch and learns, or community boards where parents can share ideas. If you are in a large company, consider stratifying your caregiver ERG into subgroups or host events based on who the employees are caring for (new parents, young children, teens, elders, spouses, persons with special needs). This can be one of the lowest cost, highest impact approaches to helping parents and caregivers feel a sense of belonging in the workplace and develop new coping strategies.

“Back to Normal” may never occur, and we may all be better for it. The pandemic opened our eyes to the needs of caregivers who are also often our best and brightest employees. Forums like NEEBC support the sharing of new ideas and best practices so employers can keep their benefits up to date and inclusive. A holistic focus on employee wellbeing and engagement recognizes that we bring our best selves to work when we have the resources and support to care for our families.

Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, MBA, MSW, Director of Corporate Partnerships at the Boston College Center for Work & Family (BCCWF)
Email: [email protected]  website:


BCCWF Work-Life Supports and Benefits Resource Page

National Alliance for Caregiving

Charter - What Workplaces Are Getting Wrong About Caregiver Support

Qualtrics - Inflation Forcing Workers to Raise Their Incomes

Quartz – The US still has a pandemic-level child care problem

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