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How employers can support workers thrust into caregiving roles

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For years, I watched my mother care for my father as his health declined.

More recently, I cared for my mother following her routine knee surgery. I was struck by the toll of the experience — the surgery, rehabilitation and return home. I found myself consumed by responsibilities I never imagined, and I am not alone.

There are approximately 43.5 million caregivers providing unpaid care to an adult or child, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Caregivers come from all walks of life, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations.

Yet these responsibilities disproportionally impact women. According to the Institute on Aging, roughly 75% of all caregivers are female, and can spend as much as 50% more time providing care than males.

The coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the challenge. Many female caregivers are now tasked with the complexity of maintaining a career, caregiving duties and potentially parenting responsibilities all under the same roof, among taking other precautions brought on by the pandemic.

Beyond this, caregiving can often bring on a financial and career toll. A Merrill Lynch study found that 92% of caregivers are also financial caregivers.

They not only provide economic support, which can strain families’ finances, but also handle bills, taxes, insurance and more for loved ones. The expenses caregivers cover on behalf of their care recipients totals an estimated $740 billion annually when combined with the market value of their personal time spent caregiving.

Outside of the costs of being a caregiver, there are other hidden financial impacts that can have severe implications for women’s financial wellness, such as having to take time off and loss of accrued benefits.

Time out of the workplace compounded with other headwinds such as unequal pay has spiraled into an issue that frequently goes unaddressed: the wealth gap.

When combining these workplace interruptions with the lifelong pay gap, by retirement age, our research has found a woman may earn $1 million less than a man who has stayed in the workforce.

And women are three times more likely to retire earlier than expected to become full-time caregivers, despite having longer lives to fund in retirement.

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The dramatic impact of caregiving on a person often trickles into the workplace. Employees who are working while fulfilling caregiving duties face an added burden of balancing their roles of worker and caregiver.

Recent Bank of America research found that nearly half of employees serve as caregivers to children or adult family members, and that caregivers report missing an average of 12 hours per month of work due to these responsibilities.

Employers have drastically underestimated their caregiver employee population, estimating that just 29% are engaged in these activities.

Correcting the imbalanced impact of caregiving on women will require action from employers (including financial services companies), women and society.

Employers can contribute to the solution by creating a culture of caring. This includes promoting candid conversations around caregiving in the workplace and expanding wellness programs to address caregiving demands on employees’ time and finances.

It’s critical for employers to provide resources that help caregivers strike a balance between their occupation and caregiving duties — and equally important for employers to promote these resources.

Our research found lack of awareness has prevented caregivers from accessing needed support. Almost nine in 10 employers offer some type of caregiving resources, yet 71% of employees are unaware of these offerings.

Finding ways to support employees in navigating the continuum of their care-related obligations — financial or otherwise — not only provides a competitive edge in retaining and recruiting talent, but also cultivates an engaged workforce. More engaged employees are more productive, thereby helping businesses thrive.

For example, at Bank of America we are looking to address and support caregivers for both clients and our own teammates. We have developed partnerships with organizations such as the Center on Longevity at Stanford University and the AgeLab at MIT to deeply understand this life stage.

In addition, we hired the industry’s first financial gerontologist to create a caregiving training program for our financial advisers. Within our company, we created caregiving benefits for more than 200,000 employees, including caregiving support programs, legal support services, paid time off for caregiving responsibilities and help with assisted living facility selection.

Our commitment to helping caregivers extends beyond our workforce. Earlier this year we launched Financial Life Benefits, which helps elevate workplace benefits offerings by providing institutional clients’ employees access to a seamless, integrated solution supporting their holistic financial needs — retirement, health savings, banking and investing. The program also offers tools, insights, education and guidance from across the organization, including resources on caregiving.

Caregiving should be recognized as a life stage that all of us will eventually go through, whether giving or receiving care. With the right planning, information and support, the financial cost will no longer be hidden.

The focus can then be on the blessings and joy that comes with providing care for loved ones.

Thankfully, my mom is back on her feet today. And through careful planning, conversation and support, I’m prepared for whatever caregiving challenges may lie ahead.

Lorna Sabbia’s BankThink post is a part of our annual Women in Banking series. Others featured in this series include Regions Financial CEO John Turner; U.S. Bank’s chief diversity officer, Greg Cunningham; and Grovetta Gardineer, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s senior deputy comptroller for bank supervision policy.

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Inclusion Women in Banking Employee benefits Employee retention Retirement planning Retirement education Retirement benefits
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