Supporting caregiver employees.

The pandemic shone a bright light on the resilience of Canada’s healthcare system, and on the challenges still to address in our long-term care and seniors’ health services. But there is another important healthcare network that may need some attention: unpaid caregivers.

Canada’s 8-million family caregivers account for a staggering 75% of all healthcare delivered in this country. The value of this unpaid work is as high as $30-billion per year, and includes everything from helping with daily tasks to managing medical care, housekeeping, transportation and medication.

Canadian caregivers are a silent cohort of workers employers can’t afford to ignore. In fact, three in ten people in the workforce are providing unpaid care, and most adults are likely to be caregivers at some point.

Why employers should care for caregivers.

If the juggling of priorities wasn’t hard enough pre-pandemic, COVID added a layer of complexity for those caring for family, friends or neighbours. A report from Statistics Canada found that Canadians living with long term conditions and disabilities were reporting significant impacts to their physical and mental health due to disruptions in services. More than three-quarters (77%) required a health service, such as physiotherapy or counselling, but were unable to receive it due to the pandemic, and 48% say their health is worse or much worse than before the pandemic.

Caregiving hours are on the rise, with 31% of Canadian caregivers providing more than 10 hours of care per week , compared to 26% who were doing so before the pandemic. Ironically, It’s also worth noting that four in ten caregivers say it cost more of their own money to provide care during the pandemic.

Employers should take note of this, given that the bulk of caregivers are in their peak earning years and among the most tenured, experienced employees. The vast majority (more than 80%) are women and may be part of the ongoing exodus of women from the workforce. In addition to facing the same pandemic pressures as the rest of the workforce, these employees also faced the stress and burnout caused by less access to healthcare, along with financial and time pressures and the increasing emotional toll of caring for anxious patients. As Canadian caregivers hit their limits, they could be part of the so-called disability deluge confronting employers and carriers.

Caring for carers.

While about one-third of workers are caring for someone else, few are likely to volunteer that information to an employer. Some fear they may be viewed as less productive or less committed, yet retaining this top talent is essential in a competitive labour market so building the support they need to help them balance care commitments with work will be key.

The first step is to recognize that caregiving is unpredictable, so offering flexible hours, remote work and paid time off to care for family is important, as is making a concerted effort to remove stigma around caregiving and encouraging those employees to adopt healthy habits and look after their own wellness.

To help reduce caregiver absenteeism, presenteeism and disability claims, it’s also a great time to review the benefits package through the caregiving lens. For example, does it offer paid personal days for occasional emergencies? What about paid leave in case they need time off to look after themselves or their care recipient? Can coverage be expanded to include respite care to help these employees avoid burnout?

Taking action.

Access to care is a key challenge for Canadian caregivers, so including virtual care in the benefits offering is a good way to help them access physical and mental wellness support on their own schedules. Virtual pharmacy services are also helpful and can help take some of the complexity out of medication management while offering on-demand access to pharmacists. Another way to help reduce complexity for caregivers is by offering digital tools that simplify benefits enrollment and the claims process.

It’s also important that caregivers and their managers are informed  about their employee assistance program (EAP). Make sure the program offers more than just a directory of service providers: caregivers need continuity and personalized support. Many employers are now adding legal and financial support to their EAP benefits.

Get started.

Here are a few steps that can help employers and advisors support the caregivers in their workforce.

  1. Do a detailed claims analysis to assess how many employees might be among the millions of Canadians providing unpaid care to someone else
  2. Include a caregiving question in employee surveys
  3. Train managers to identify and support carers
  4. Review coverage for allied practitioners, such as chiropractic or physiotherapy services
  5. Expand access to care with virtual services such as TELUS Health Virtual Care or TELUS Health Virtual Pharmacy
  6. Encourage employees to look into other technologies, such as LivingWell Companion, to help protect care recipients and give caregivers peace of mind.

Unpaid caregiving is a reality for all employers. With the right support, employers can engage their caregiving employees and help improve health outcomes and quality of life for millions of Canadians.

Learn more about how TELUS Health can help employers, administrators and insurers build connected, accessible, efficient healthcare for Canadians.

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