According to new research from Harvard Business School, the American workforce is on the brink of a new kind of crisis: a “caregiving crisis,” as two researchers are calling it. Of the 75 percent of U.S. workers who have a caregiving responsibility, 28 percent said their caregiving obligations had hurt their career, 32 percent said they left a job because of life-work incompatibility, and 80 percent said their responsibilities at home kept them from doing their best at work. A crisis, indeed.
Furthermore, as co-author Joseph Fuller tells The Wall Street Journal, employers often overlook caregiving as a root cause behind turnover and productivity issues. The researchers even have proof of this disconnect: While 80 percent of caregiving employees said their duties had affected their productivity, only 24 percent of employers said caregiving had affected their employees' performance.
Attrition rates among caregivers are especially high for younger generations: 27 percent of employees aged 18–25 and 50 percent of those aged 26–35 said they left a job due to caregiving responsibilities. And though women still comprise the majority of primary caregivers, more men than women reported leaving jobs because of family responsibilities.
For women in particular, caregiving can become a major obstacle in the path to leadership. Even though women earn the majority of doctoral degrees (52 percent) and master's degrees (57 percent) in the U.S., they are leaving the workforce in the largest numbers. In fact, a whopping 30 percent of women leave the workforce entirely after becoming parents, and an untold number are “opting down” into lower paying, less challenging roles. When these women try to reenter the workforce a little down the road, they face huge hurdles—if they can get back in at all.
Without intervention, the crisis is only going to get worse, especially given how much longer people are living today. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of Americans aged 65 and older will more than double by 2060, and that age group will go from being 15 percent to 24 percent of the country's total population. This shift is already having a major impact on millennial workers. This new “sandwich generation” is tasked with providing care both up and down, with the average millennial caregiver already spending an average of 21.2 hours a week assisting a loved one.
Despite the urgency of this crisis, many companies haven’t taken the steps to understand the caregiving needs of their employees. According to this new research, more than half of employers have no idea what percentage of their employees are caregivers—and consequently, don’t understand the burdens of these individuals, the business impact of those burdens, and how to alleviate those burdens.
Meanwhile, our own research here at Werk echoes these findings. We found that current workday structures makes it challenging for 33 percent of parents to be the parents they want to be, 31 percent to fulfill their morning caregiving responsibilities, 34 percent to fulfill their afternoon responsibilities, 29 percent to attend special events for those they care for, and for 30 percent to respond to caregiving emergencies as they arise.
"U.S. firms are facing a caregiving crisis and refuse to acknowledge it," Fuller says in a press release. "They are oblivious to the growing costs of the care economy and that is hurting them and their employees. It is clear that firms can gain a competitive advantage by investing in a care culture. But first they need to recognize the problem and implement a deliberate care strategy to support their employees."
Fuller urges companies to collect data on their employees' caretaking responsibilities to find solutions to these productivity and turnover woes. "What employers are going to find, I believe," Fuller adds, "is there are some really good returns associated with offsetting some these problems."
Are you ready to start collecting that data and building a company culture that works for everyone? We can help.