Your employees have been dealing with a lot. A pandemic, changes in work situations, financial uncertainty, social unrest … but at least they have after-work time and weekends to relax and re-center, right?
Not if they’re caregivers, they don’t.
Being a caregiver to another person in need, whether it’s an aging parent, a child with special needs, or a spouse suffering from health issues, can strain even the most energetic, resilient employees.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at caregiver burnout and what you can do to help mitigate the effects on your employees through your wellness program offerings.
What Is Caregiver Burnout?
Caregiver burnout is unique in that it involves more than the physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that are common with “traditional” employee burnout. An employee can always walk away from a job that’s burning them out. But with caregiver burnout, the exhaustion and frustration may be coming from caring for the person the employee loves most in the world. The result? A massive cocktail of affection, resentment, stress and guilt, to name but a few of the many conflicting emotions that come with caregiving. Caregivers often lose their sense of selves, finding themselves taking care of everybody and everything but their own well-being.
How Does Caregiver Burnout Happen?
In addition to neglecting their own needs, employees who struggle with caregiver burnout usually deal with a common set of factors:
Lack of Boundaries: People who become caregivers often have difficulty setting boundaries between their role as a caregiver and their own needs. The other person’s dependence on them and their own sense of love or obligation makes it incredibly difficult to carve out “me” time.
Resignation: Many caregivers have unrealistic expectations about the impact they will have on the person in their life. When their loved one suffers from a progressive disease, such as Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, they may become resigned and even experience depression.
Lack of control: Many caregivers become frustrated by the financial impacts of caring for loved ones, as well as not having the skills or support to implement the best care plan.
Overwhelm: In some cases, caregivers become completely overwhelmed by the demands involved in taking care of their loved ones.
What Does Caregiver Burnout Look Like?
Your employees will exhibit certain behaviors when they are experiencing caregiver burnout, including:
- Withdrawal from other friends or family members
- No longer being interested in hobbies or pastimes
- Irritability, hopelessness or pessimism, and sadness
- Appetite and weight changes
- Fatigue and low energy
- Increased illness and use of sick days
- Signs of increased alcohol or drug use
Related Reading: Employee Burnout Signs: What to Watch For and How to Prevent It
How Does Caregiver Burnout Impact Your Organization?
More than likely, you have employees in your company who are in a caregiver role—some of them may have been in that role for years, while others are newly immersed in it. Either way, waiting until employees are already in the tailspin of caregiver burnout can be quite costly for your organization.
The Harvard Business Review estimated a health care spending cost of $125 billion to $190 billion due to caregiver burnout. From a productivity perspective, any type of burnout hampers how well employees perform their jobs and relate to coworkers.
This is especially true for the 73% of women who have found themselves in the “Sandwich Generation,” where they care for their children and their aging parents.
Women Are More Likely to Experience Caregiver Burnout
Women are more likely to experience caregiver burnout because they are often burdened with handling the household tasks in addition to working and caring for loved ones. In fact, according to a December 2020 Spring Health report, 80% of employed women say they experience burnout.
Marital status and family size are significant factors in levels of caregiver burnout. About 6% of unmarried American employees say they experience complete burnout compared to 12% of those who are married. When we look at working parents, 12% say they are burned out—almost double that of their counterparts without children.
Related Webinar: Learn How to Support Working Parents and Improve Retention
How You Can Support Caregivers in Your Organization
So how can your organization help employees struggling with caregiver burnout, or better yet, help them prevent it in the first place?
Obviously, you can’t do the caretaking for them, nor can you intervene in family dynamics. But there are actions your organization can take to support employees, whether it’s through your HR policies, mental health benefits, management training, and/or corporate wellness challenges.
Identify Caregiver Burnout Early
Make sure your supervisors and managers are well trained to recognize burnout, specifically, caregiver burnout in the earliest stages. When it comes to addressing mental illness, having a support system in the workplace that intervenes early can help prevent the depression and anxiety that often accompanies caregiver burnout.
Adjust Employee Workload
Your supervisors should be empowered to adjust employee workloads when they spot the early signs of burnout in an employee. They can alleviate some responsibilities or shift deadlines to provide the employee with a less demanding work environment.
In some cases, reassignment to other teams or responsibilities may be necessary, especially for employees in high-stress positions. However, it’s vital to reassure employees that the change is meant to assist them in managing all of their responsibilities and is not a sign of eventual termination. Any employees who see a burned-out co-worker being shown the door will take notes. And they’ll avoid reaching out for support … until it’s far too late.
It is highly likely that employees experiencing caregiver burnout will be hard on themselves and have to be encouraged to accept any type of help from their supervisors and senior management.
Develop a Culture of Listening
When employees feel that their managers are willing to listen to work-related problems, they are 62% less likely to burn out. By creating an environment where employees feel heard, supervisors and managers can support employees, keep them engaged, and help alleviate the stressors for caring for loved ones.
Coaching services is another way employees can be supported. If your corporate wellness program includes a coaching component, employees who display the early or late-stage signs of caregiver burnout are excellent candidates for this offering.
Related Reading: 5 Benefits of Employee Wellness Coaching
Adapt Your Corporate Wellness Program
Not only is your corporate wellness program designed to help employees achieve their health goals, but it can also be extremely useful in addressing issues like caregiver burnout. Specifically, you can incorporate any number of challenges and programs to help employees, including:
- Wellness challenges that encourage healthy exercise and nutrition habits
- Designated stress-free time and space for employees to unplug
- Guided meditation, yoga and other stress-reduction techniques
- Challenges related to taking scheduled breaks for a walk outside (or around the building)
- Lunch-and-learns or online training regarding Medicare/Medicaid rules for caretakers
- Scheduled support groups for “sandwich generation” employees
- Access to support resources and guest speakers
These are just a few of the types of activities you can put in place to support employees experiencing caregiver burnout. The key is to keep employees informed, encouraging them to use these resources as soon as they need them. Managers can provide an early detection system, keeping watch for any employees who appear to display signs of burnout and providing them with help and support.
At WellRight, our team of corporate wellness experts have a wealth of knowledge to assist you in creating a supportive space for your employees to thrive. For help setting up challenges and strategies specific to caregiver burnout, contact us. We can help.