Becoming a caregiver is like taking on a second -- difficult, unpaid -- part-time job.

Do your corporate clients have wellness programs or are thinking of adding wellness programs?

If your answer is “yes,” then you are in good company.

Wellness programs are becoming more prevalent within organizations and are commonly designed to encourage healthy behavior for a workforce and to improve health outcomes.

According to a 2012 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, three out of five employers offer wellness programs. Many employers are focusing on chronic disease programs which currently drive significant health and disability costs for employers. 

However, there is a prevalent issue that is undermining corporate wellness efforts…and you’d be surprised how common and devastating it is. This wellness killer is caregiving!

We don’t mean child care, we mean adult care, whether it be for our parents, spouse, siblings or close friends.

Today, this “wellness killer” causes the largest number of lost days on Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, second only to maternity.

It is an issue that is responsible for more than $13 billion in additional corporate medical costs per year.

It is an issue that results in lost productivity, presenteeism, shift changes and experienced workers leaving the workforce all together.

It is an issue your clients’ employees often will not talk about, and it may affect their C-suite executives as much as it affects the front-line employees.

If a client’s employee population has an average age in the mid to upper-40s (the average age of a caregiver is 49), the client is likely experiencing this more than the owner of a company that has an average age in the 30s.

The average caregiver spends 20 hours to 30 hours per week providing care, in addition to the work the caregiver does for the employer.

Imagine if you haven’t been through this yet, that you are working 40 to 50 hours a week, trying to attend your children’s events and juggle all of your other home duties and now someone gives you 20 to 30 hours of “extra” work. This “extra work” continues for 4.6 years on average.

Obviously, caregiving takes its toll on us, our performance and our health.

Often, caregivers will keep this to themselves and not discuss it with their co-workers or supervisors. Common conditions associated with working caregivers include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, stress, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and heart disease.

What are the top conditions your corporate clients are trying to address with their wellness programs? I would bet the list is almost identical to the list of conditions that caregiving can aggravate. 

While a wellness program is a great start, it often does not factor in the caregiver dilemma. The best corporate wellness programs are understandably ignored by working caregivers because of the all-consuming nature of the caregiving situation.

Perhaps, the biggest problem is that many people providing care don’t identify themselves as caregivers and, therefore, fail to take advantage of programs like the employee assistance program, exercise program or nutrition program that you might already have in place.

According to a survey of over 10,000 employees conducted by AGIS Network across an array of industries, 44 percent of employees indicated that they or someone in their family is currently or was recently involved in providing care for an adult loved one.

This survey was only conducted after the employee attended a seminar on caregiving and learned that caregiving really starts with the littlest of “just helping out” tasks.

So what’s the answer?…A combination of education, conversation and resources.

  • Educating clients’ employees about caregiver awareness and what can help with preventing the crisis situation. 
  • Equally important is the conversation about keeping the caregiver safe and healthy along with the care recipient. 
  • Encouraging employees to have conversations in their families about what the family will do if a loved one needs regular care. 
  • Providing tools and resources for families that take on a caregiving role.

Wellness is a great start — but, for workers involved with caregiving, adding caregiver support programs can make those wellness programs much more effective.

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