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Combating Caregiver Burnout: Recognizing, Preventing, and Reevaluating

The U.S. has become a nation of unpaid caregivers. According to research conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation, 54% of people between the ages of 50 and 80 provided care for aging adults in the past two years. These are not trained caregivers or support workers; they are family members, loved ones, sons, daughters, and neighbors who are taking responsibility for the vulnerable people in their lives. Often, these volunteer caregivers work full time while caring for their own families.

While the statistic above is significant, what might be even more illuminating is the number of caregivers suffering from symptoms of burnout. Of the millions of caregivers in the same study, 34% reported feeling emotionally fatigued, and 31% faced challenges managing work and other responsibilities. Former HR Generalist and Trainer Kathryn Tyler notes that many caregivers struggle to disclose how caregiving affects them personally out of fear of losing their jobs, so these numbers are likely even higher.

Due to an aging population, more workers are taking on caregiving roles. As an employer, it is imperative to learn how to identify caregiver burnout and address it directly. To foster a healthy workplace and care for caregiving employees, leaders must implement support strategies. This blog post will address caregiver burnout, the signs and symptoms to watch out for, and strategies to tackle caregiver burnout in the workplace.

Younger woman and elderly woman spending time together interacting

"Caregiver burnout, also known as compassion fatigue, can be experienced by those who provide long-term care to someone else."

What Is Caregiver Burnout?

Most American workplaces today are familiar with the term “burnout” — a state of long-term fatigue and stress that affects an employee’s well-being and ability to continue performing their job. Caregiver burnout is a particular state of stress experienced by those who provide long-term care to someone else. 

Caregiver burnout, sometimes known as compassion fatigue, can include physical symptoms, such as headaches, tiredness, appetite and weight changes, poor sleep, and an increased prevalence of illness. Emotional symptoms often go hand in hand with physical ones but can be harder to identify. Increased irritability, depression, withdrawal, and loss of interest are just some of the emotional symptoms that can manifest for long-term caregivers and affect those around them.

Why Is Caregiver Burnout a Critical Issue for Employers?

There are five main reasons why employers should pay attention to caregiver burnout:

  • Well-Being. Caregivers are facing poor health and mental well-being due to the intense demands of short- and long-term caregiving. Consequently, employers often find themselves assisting team members who are struggling and in poor health. These individuals are more likely to require substantial healthcare, take sick days and sabbaticals, and be less responsive and engaged at work.

  • Performance. Caregivers are less likely to maintain a healthy work-life balance, leading to unsustainable work habits. According to a Harvard Business School report, 80% of employees with caregiving responsibilities say that caregiving affects their productivity at work. As they strive to manage full-time work alongside the stress of caregiving, they may have less energy for projects and customer communication. They may work longer hours or sacrifice sleep to arrive at work on time. Low performance can lead to low morale and vice versa. 

  • Development. The aforementioned issues — a decline in performance quality and diminishing well-being — are likely to adversely affect career development. An individual who is exhausted, struggling to perform, missing deadlines, and withdrawing from teamwork is often unable to focus on their long-term career trajectory. The challenges of balancing work while caregiving often render career planning unfeasible, leading to more temporary work, lower earning potential, and fewer opportunities for long-term progression.

  • Retention. Employees performing subpar and avoiding career progression, not to mention experiencing symptoms of burnout, are more likely to leave a job instead of advancing within the company or seeking help. This can result in an unstable environment, a constantly changing culture, and high recruitment and turnover costs.

  • Reputation. Teams experiencing chronic stress are likely to make more mistakes. Whether it’s losing track of an email thread or showing up unprepared for a meeting, these performance lapses can accumulate. Eventually, customers and clients may notice, and some might transition to another company offering more reliable results.

The role of employers in supporting their employees holistically becomes clear at this point. Employer support and caregiver awareness have vital roles to play in curbing the impact of burnout. After all, caregiver burnout can impact the individual and the entire organization if left unchecked. 

Employers looking to nurture a resilient, collaborative team over the long term will need to pay close attention to their workforce today. Awareness is the first step toward healthy employees and a successful business. 

How Might Caregiver Burnout Manifest at Work?

Employers can prepare to offer caregiver support by educating themselves on what burnout looks like. How could caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue show up in the workplace? What are some of the signs and signals to look out for?

1. They might not show up.

Increased absenteeism is a sign of caregiver burnout. If an employee uses sick days, takes personal days, or simply misses work (with or without a reason), they might be experiencing compassion fatigue.

2. They might do less.

Decreased productivity can appear as fewer comments in meetings, slower or incomplete responses to emails, or a minimal level of effort and output during projects. Any of these may signal a problem.

3. They might withdraw socially.

In a team, communication is fundamental, and even sideline social interactions like lunch chats and morning check-ins can boost team morale and productivity. If employees are shying away from these moments and preferring to spend time alone, they may suffer from caregiver burnout.

4. They seem “off.”

There are many other signs of burnout, depending on the individual. Are they experiencing physical symptoms, such as frequent headaches or poor sleep? Do they seem emotionally exhausted or irritable? Are they perhaps neglecting personal care, coming to work in unclean clothes or forgetting things? This additional information might signal caregiver burnout.

All these signs could indicate that an employee is struggling. If they are also providing care to a loved one outside of work, it’s probably time to take some action on their behalf.

How Can Employer Support Create a Healthier Workplace?

The importance of employee health and well-being cannot be overstated. There are three mindsets employers should cultivate to counteract the challenges of working while caregiving: recognition, prevention, and reevaluation. Within these three mindsets, there are many strategies available to provide caregiver support and reduce stress in organizations.

1. Recognize

Acknowledge caregivers: The first step toward helping employee caregivers manage stress is acknowledging the caregivers on the team. Caring for an aging family member is quite different from caring for a young child, and the stressors of this type of caregiving manifest differently. November is National Family Caregiver Month, and it’s a good opportunity to support individuals with eldercare responsibilities outside of work.

Schedule regular check-ins: People are more likely to open up about their challenges with caregiving if they have regular opportunities to do so. Train managers to schedule routine meetings, perhaps with a weekly or monthly check-in, in which they ask caregiving employees about their outside stresses. Even just feeling seen and appreciated can help caregivers manage their workloads.

Monitor workloads: Individual caregivers will respond differently to stress and may need very different resources and tactics to cope. Monitor employees’ workloads and patterns to spot those who are taking on too much or experiencing a change in performance.

Educate the team: Open communication with the whole team can help caregivers. If everyone around them knows what caregiver burnout is and is encouraged to look out for their teammates, it will nurture an environment of care.

Follow the law: There are legal protections that working caregivers can access, and employers should ensure they’re up to date. In the U.S., employers must adhere to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which grants eligible employees a period of unpaid but job-protected leave every year for caregiving reasons.

2. Prevent 

Create supportive policies: In addition to legal compliance, there are other recommended policies employers can implement to help prevent caregiver burnout. Offering paid family or caregiver leave, for example, can be reassuring, as can return-to-work policies that help caregivers transition back into the work environment. AT&T managers can now take 15 days of paid leave for caregiving.

Add eldercare benefits: Eldercare benefits support caregivers and enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. They are particularly valuable for employees from communities with strong family-oriented values, such as some Hispanic, Black, and Japanese communities, that may face added caregiving responsibilities when family members fall ill. Moreover, studies indicate that a significant portion of caregiving tasks are shouldered by women, including childcare, eldercare, and care for those with mental health conditions. Offering eldercare benefits not only supports these employees but also fosters an inclusive work environment for all.

Encourage time off: While programs and policies can help caregivers find extra time and support, they may also need encouragement from employers. Remind caregiving employees that they can take time off even when they are not feeling stressed. Scheduled time off can help prevent burnout in the long term. 

Introduce flexible working: Flexible working arrangements can help caregivers manage their workloads in healthier ways. Try to offer multiple options that could suit different individuals and their situations, such as telecommuting, flexible hours, compressed workweeks, or even job-sharing arrangements.

3. Reevaluate 

Reflect: All of the above tactics should help give caregivers the time and space they need to unwind. However, maintaining workplace recognition, even after employees have ceased showing signs of burnout, is equally important. Reflect on the actions taken and what still needs to be done.

Evaluate programs: Part of fostering a supportive environment for caregivers entails assessing and adjusting how initiatives are working. Seek input regularly to practice continuous improvement and meet employees where they are.

Facilitate caregiver support groups: Help teams help each other by forming support groups. These groups can help create an ongoing atmosphere of care where caregivers can seek help, share experiences, and offload stress.

How Can CareGo Help?

Our understanding of the caregiving community fuels our mission. We know that working caregivers are among the most overlooked groups in the workplace and often lack the support they need to take care of themselves and their responsibilities. We recognize that this disruption in work-life balance can have detrimental effects on the workplace as a whole. We aim to help caregivers manage their caregiving demands so they can be present at work as their full selves — productive, engaged, and living up to their potential.

By 2034, adults over 65 will outnumber those aged 18 and under in the U.S., resulting in an increased demand for care work by family members. As a result, we have developed a comprehensive digital platform for employers to offer as an employee benefit. 

CareGo empowers caregivers by providing guidance and access to the tools they need to thrive. Through CareGo, caregivers gain access to a Care Advisor for one-on-one sessions, personalized advice, and emotional support, as well as videos, podcasts, articles, and interactive tools. Caregivers can also invite family and friends to join the platform. They can assign tasks, set calendar reminders, and securely share the care recipient’s health information through one centralized tool. CareGo also provides access and discounts to trusted services, such as in-home care, meal prep, fraud detection, bill pay services, etc.

Lastly, with the help of Care Advisors and our technology platform, caregivers can receive a personalized care plan to support healthy aging for their loved ones. Just as important, CareGo helps support employee well-being throughout their entire caregiving journey. 

What Are Users Saying About Us?

“Having a compassionate team that is knowledgeable in caregiving is invaluable. They have guided me through the process of providing the best care for my father and made my job so much easier.” – Emily C.

“As an only child, I can’t easily turn to anyone for help in caring for my mom. Now, I feel fortunate to have the support and resources I need and trust. For the first time, I don’t feel alone.” – Robert A.

“I live over 400 miles away from my parents. Now I have reliable resources available to help in making sure their needs are met, and I don’t have to worry about being so far away.” – Gwyn S.

Preparing for the Future: Establishing Support Systems for Caregivers 

With the growing number of aging adults and the continued increase in healthcare costs, many employees will likely assume caregiving responsibilities in the near future. It’s wise to prepare now by setting up support systems for caregiving employees.

We are all human, and achieving a work-life balance can be immensely challenging, especially when much of one’s personal life revolves around caring for another individual. The good news is that there are many solutions to create a better future. Interested in learning more about CareGo? Need assistance with offering the right support to employees? Feel free to contact our dedicated team at CareGo today.

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