Growing up, I recall my mother being the primary caregiver and decision maker regarding all of our healthcare needs including my father’s and my grandmother’s. When I was sick, she would say to me, “ok open your mouth” and she would gently place the temp stick in my mouth to take my temperature. Her warm hands would rub my back with Vicks vaporub and she would touch my forehead and neck intermittently to make sure my fever subsided.

She would make sure my father made it to the doctor’s office for his annual physical exam. My grandmother lived with us and after work, my mother would care for her, making sure that she saw the doctor for regular check ups and that she got the flu shot during flu season.

One would say that this was the case because she was a nurse, but that is not the only reason. Statistics from the Department of Labor tell us that because she is a woman she is more likely to be the primary decision maker for the family as well as the caregiver when a family member falls ill.

Coincidentally, I had just finished reading Maria Shriver’s book, “Alzheimer’s in America” where she provides eye opening facts about women, their role as caregivers and the toll it takes on them caring for family members with Alzheimer’s. She states, “6.7 million American women now provide unpaid care for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia. 44 percent are employed full time or part time. Of those women 68 percent report emotional stress from caregiving, nearly half, rate their stress as a 5 on a scale of 1 to 5 and 51 percent acknowledge physical stress.”

As the labor force becomes more diverse, older and more female and as modern breakthroughs are making it possible to live longer lives, there needs to be adequate tools and knowledge to help these women handle taking care of a family member with complicated health issues while working a full time job. We see this phenomena happening more and more as this has been referred to as the “sandwich generation”, where adults are managing the needs of emerging children and elderly parents at the same time.

AARP in collaboration with the United Way of Southern Pennsylvania and ReAct (Respect a Caregiver’s Time) are working together to help companies form strategies on how to better support their employees who also care for their family members.

According to AARP, here are 8 no to low-cost ways employers can help support working caregivers. 

Organize an Affinity Group: Raising awareness and allowing a way for employees to share their stories company-wide can create a tremendous amount of support.

Update your Employee Handbook: Make sure that the word “caregiver” appears in your company handbook as well as your training materials. When presentations are given about work life balance, ensure that caregiving is included in the material.

Foster Dialogue and Learning: Invite expert speakers for a lunch hour or after hours session on a subject matter involving managing stress, navigating legal issues or communicating with physicians.

Compile In-house Information: Promote services that may not be widely known by your employees such as employee assistance program and reimbursable elder care services.

Connect with Services: Establish relationships with community caregiver services to offer warm referrals to your employees. This is a great way to support your staff even if you don’t have a formal caregiver benefits program.

Consider Flexible Working Arrangements: Consider offering flexible work schedules or telecommuting to balance their jobs with responsibilities that come with caring for their family members.

Train Managers to Be Supporters: Train managers about the demands of caregiving and teach them how to work with their employees, helping their staff manage their responsibilities.

Create a Quiet Space: Create a space for caregivers to make calls to the doctor’s office, home health aides or insurance companies. Support them in being able to have these conversations in a dedicated space, one that allows them privacy and to be able to speak openly without having to sneak outside to make these important calls.