AMERICUS, GEORGIA – The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI) recently launched a new initiative around working caregivers to learn more about the effects of employment policies aimed at supporting caregivers. While 60 percent of caregivers work full time, and another 15 percent work more than 30 hours per week, their experiences are not well understood. RCI’s initiative will explore the effects of employment on caregivers and how their employers might help support them, as well as identify state and/or federal policies that could benefit them.
The past year has marked a period of unforeseeable upheaval for employers and employees alike, both globally and nationally. During this time, employers adapted out of necessity. Many agreed to concessions they had long resisted, such as remote work, flexible hours, and generous family leave policies. At the same time, these measures were not available for all workers in all sectors, with women of color especially impacted.
The first endeavor of RCI’s employment initiative is a research study led by Public Opinion Strategies, which will test whether employer accommodations and supports, including the new policies employers introduced over the past year were, in fact, what caregivers needed. This formative research, funded by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, is aimed at pressure-testing many commonly held assumptions about what benefits will help caregivers.
Some of the policies enacted during the pandemic have been supported by advocates for family caregivers, who assume that family caregivers will benefit from working in more flexible environments, for example. A more flexible schedule should make it easier to shuttle your mother to a doctor’s appointment or be home to receive a home health aide or be available when the VA calls back to verify your partner’s disability status. RCI’s research will consider a range of potential supports with caregivers themselves to determine if and how those supports might help them remain productive at work while capably caring for their loved one.
Prior studies from RCI and others have shown that employer-provided supports and benefits are important but not sufficient for improving caregiver health and well-being. Employers are just one contributor, interacting with many other factors that, together, powerfully affect caregiver health. Like health care, education, poverty, and other complex societal challenges, caregiving is a dynamic issue, and improving caregiver well-being will require the interplay of multiple interdependent interests. RCI’s 2020 report, Recalibrating for Caregivers: Recognizing the Public Health Challenge, describes the comprehensive approach necessary to ensure a real, lasting impact on caregivers.
“Employers have a larger role to play in supporting family caregivers as a public health population and a growing segment of America’s workforce. Not only does it make good business sense, but it can also fundamentally shift how our society addresses caregiver needs once these are better understood,” said Amber Slichta, vice president of programs at the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. “In supporting RCI’s work, we hope to find more opportunities for innovation and engagement with employers to support caregivers across many different sectors of work.”
RCI’s latest effort will study caregivers alongside their employers, inclusive of frontline workers, C-suite leaders, and everyone in between. Engaging employers in various industry sectors across the country will help illuminate what benefits and opportunities are offered by employers with which are available in the community, which ones are taken up, and how they help or hinder caregiver employment.
“Our hope is to get a better sense of whether those supports often touted as ‘the answer’ for caregivers really do meet their needs,” said Dr. Jennifer Olsen, chief executive officer of the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. “Every worker who also provides care knows that showing up and being engaged at work every day is like a game of Jenga. Every decision removes another piece, and the risk is that the entire tower falls apart.”
The initiative will also include immersive engagement with select employers to understand the interaction between community offerings and employee uptake, as well as new research conducted by Debra Lerner, MS, PhD, director of the Tufts Medical Center Program on Health, Work and Productivity.