The challenges facing American workers today are many: stagnant wages, greater transportation expense, higher out-of-pocket medical costs -- the list goes on. Add to their number those who need to take care of a sick loved one, an increasingly common task among many workers, and it's clear that something has to give.
That's something is work, according to results from a Gallup survey released Wednesday. The study showed that those who work at the least 15 hours a week and help care for an aging family member, relative or friend say that those duties significantly affect their jobs.
Most caregivers report missing entire workdays in their effort to care for others, Gallup says. Polling data show that 36 percent report missing one to five days a year because of caregiving duties in the past year, while 30 percent missed six or more days.
The data also showed that a sizable number of caregivers -- about 33 percent -- hold professional positions, with another 12 percent working in management.
Those statistics, combined with high levels of absenteeism, suggest that skills that help workers to run a company or a division don't always translate well when it comes to taking care of a sick loved one, says Wendy Kaufman, founder and CEO of Balancing Life's Issues Inc., based in Ossining, N.Y.
Sudden New Responsibilities
Eighty percent or more of workers are unprepared when a loved one experiences a significant health issue, such as heart attack or stroke.
"Caregiving sometimes happens very suddenly and many people don't know how to use their time well," Kaufman says. That results in workers often taking too many days off when they don't need to.
Overall, Gallup's data showed caregivers reported missing an average of 6.6 workdays a year. Combined, that equals 126 million workdays missed each year, when considering that about 17 percent of full-time workers act as caregivers. That's a yearly cost to the U.S. economy of $25.2 billion in lost productivity.
Add caregivers who work part-time into the equation, Gallup says, and absenteeism costs would climb even higher.
A majority of caregivers -- 71 percent -- say that their employers are aware of their caregiving duties, but 28 percent report that their bosses are unaware. Moreover, analysis of knowledge of workplace support programs shows that about 25 percent or less of working caregivers have access to support groups, ask-a- -type services, financial/legal advisers and assisted-living counselors through their respective workplaces.
Gallup's data also showed that about a third of caregivers hold professional positions, with another 12 percent each in service and management roles. Less than 5 percent of caregivers work in other professions, such as installation/repair, transportation and construction.
A Challenging Reality
Considering the substantial impact that caring for a sick loved one can have in increasing workplace absenteeism, Gallup says that business leaders should be mindful of the unique realities that caregivers encounter.
Providing support systems for caregiving employees would be a worthy investment, since many of them are likely interested in seeking support in balancing the competing demands of work and personal life.
Easier access to assistance could go a long way toward greater productivity in the U.S. workplace, since many caregivers routinely face significant physical and emotional challenges.
But some of the onus is on workers, too, Kaufman says. "We have great resources in this country, but people need to take initiative to learn about them."
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