One of the hidden tolls of the pandemic is its impact on working Americans' well-being. A recent study found that 44 percent of employees are more burned out than they were one year ago. It's particularly hard for employees who are also caregivers trying to juggle work with caring for parents, children or friends in need. The lines between work, personal and family life-- always blurry-- have been erased for so many working Americans.
Employers have a tremendous opportunity to build a workplace that is responsive to this new reality. Across the country, employers are reassessing their benefits and policies to create workplaces that empower employees to thrive personally and professionally. It's a culture shift, to be sure, but in an increasingly competitive market for employees, employers who recognize this new dynamic will be best positioned to attract and retain the best employees and to create a competitive advantage.
Here are new approaches employers should consider when working to build that new workplace and address the problem of employee burnout, especially for the growing population of employee caregivers.
Step away from the 'always-on' mentality
As employers rethink benefits and policies to prioritize caregivers, it's important to shift away from the "always-on" mentality. Even before the pandemic, caregiver employees had to juggle work and caregiving responsibilities. Now, with the transition to work-from-home and hybrid work environments, it's common for these employees to feel obligated to check their email from their computers and phones at all hours-- worsening an already challenging situation.
To help reduce caregiver burnout, employers can eliminate this "always-on" mentality by being adaptable and encouraging managers to set realistic goals and expectations for their teams. Promoting company-wide flexibility through "flex hours," built-in work breaks and limiting video calls and can give caregivers the freedom and support they need to care for loved ones (such as taking them to a doctor's appointment during the day) while also getting their work done. Setting priorities and practical goals will allow all employees-- especially caregiver employees-- to better compartmentalize their responsibilities and reduce the risk of burnout.
Implement a supportive caregiver employee network
The pressures of caregiving are significant and can be overwhelming. Even if caregivers can separate their work and caregiving responsibilities through flexible work hours and limited video calls, it's not always easy for them to deal with the emotional toll of caregiving, in addition to many practical responsibilities of caring for a loved one.
Honoring employee caregivers can help those employees feel "seen" and understood. Employers should consider forming an employee support group to connect employees with their colleagues who are also caregivers. These support groups can meet virtually (or in person) on a weekly or monthly basis, and can also incorporate blog-writing, book-sharing or bringing in caregiving professionals to offer practical advice. Although caregiving is an immense responsibility, caregivers should be proud of making a difference in their loved one's lives, and sharing their experiences with those who understand first-hand will help them feel genuinely supported by their employer.
Promote the importance mental health and self-care among caregivers
As important as it is to foster a workplace where caregiver employees can safely discuss their mental health and feelings of burnout, it's also equally as important for employers to allow (and even encourage) these employees to take time off to prevent burnout.
Implementing additional paid time off, specifically for caregivers, is a great way to help prevent caregiver burnout. Employers should also offer mental health days and exercise benefits to encourage a healthy lifestyle. The stress of caregiving can lead to a lack of sleep and a reduction in exercise-- results that worsen stress and cause other health issues. And since caregiving can be a long and often complicated process, employers should consider implementing a caregiving support and advocacy benefit that is dedicated to providing comprehensive support-- including expert clinical advice and knowledgeable care experts.
Skilled, dedicated, productive employees have more choices than ever and are more selective than ever in picking the environment in which they want to work. Employers have a tremendous opportunity to reimagine-- and remake-- the workplace in a way that prioritizes employees who have caregiving responsibilities. Americans want to bring their best selves to work; employers who recognize what it takes to empower them to do just that will lead the way.