How Company Leaders Can Offer Caregiver Support to an Employee

UPDATED: May 20, 2024
PUBLISHED: May 23, 2024
Mother and disabled son exemplifying caregiver support

Caregivers provide unpaid support for someone who has a chronic illness or a disability, or for an aging individual who needs care. There are around 53 million caregivers in the United States today. And many of those individuals balance full-time work with their caregiving responsibilities.

As the demographics in our country continue to change, more and more caregivers will emerge. By 2030, approximately 73 million people in the United States will be 65 years old or older. “Even if an organization doesn’t have a lot of working caregivers, everyone will be touched by a caregiving situation just because of the demographics in our country,” says Denise Brown, founder of The Caregiving Years Training Academy.

How to support a caregiver

Someone can become a caregiver at any point in their life. I became a caregiver when I was 33 years old. My middle son was born with multiple disabilities, and aside from caring for my son’s basic newborn needs, I was scheduling doctor and physical therapy appointments and learning how to support someone with accessibility needs in a largely inaccessible world. At the time, I was also working a full-time corporate career and parenting a toddler.

While I was overwhelmed, I wanted to continue working and to be back in my routine. Apparently, this feeling isn’t uncommon. “Family caregivers who work within an organization want the organization to be successful. Our work can feel like a reprieve,” says Brown. “We like to be productive. We like to contribute to a team. We like to make a difference. And our work provides us with those opportunities.”

Yet as much as we want to continue with our routine, when you’re caring for someone, it’s an emotional situation—you’re stressed and worried. You’re just not at your best. To help caregivers continue to succeed at work, employers can provide the following caregiver support.

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Allow for flexibility

“The two most important things working caregivers need from their employers are flexibility and compassion,” says Liz O’Donnell, author of Working Daughter: A Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parents While Making a Living.

“Flexibility means setting parameters about what the work is and when it’s needed, but letting the employee decide how that happens,” O’Donnell says. We all need time to visit the doctor or take care of personal needs, but caregivers need this flexibility that much more when they are caring for someone with many medical appointments. There is value in having the opportunity to get a job done within your own personal parameters. This can mean working odd hours such as at night or on the weekend, or working from different locations, like a hospital room or rehabilitation center.

Most caregivers do their best to keep their family members happy and healthy while also balancing their own needs. “Caregivers are trying their best to keep their lives in a stable situation,” says Brown. “Caring for our family, our work, our lives and a disease process that can be out of our control” is a real juggling act. And it varies from day to day and week to week.

Show compassion for caregivers

When my son was born sick and diagnosed with disabilities, compassion from colleagues and managers helped me feel seen and supported—which I appreciated when times were tough. “Caregiving isn’t just about time and tasks. It’s an emotional and sometimes heartbreaking responsibility,” says O’Donnell. “The simplest way to make a workplace more caregiver-friendly is to cultivate a culture of compassion. Understanding and empathetic managers can go a long way in making a caregiver feel supported.”

Devise an emergency plan

While I was getting ready to be a parent for a second time, I wasn’t prepared to suddenly spend weeks on end in the NICU. The unexpectedness of any caregiver situation makes it that much more complicated. “When you’re caring for someone who’s medically complex, there may be a sudden medical crisis,” says Brown. “You have to be available to advocate within a system because the system usually isn’t set up to support us in the ways that we need.”

Managers can set up an emergency plan, where a facilitator meets with the team and brainstorms what could potentially happen if anyone has a personal emergency. This is something that can be done on an annual basis. The group discusses how to cover various roles so the team is “equipped and empowered to manage the situation,” says Brown. Even when a business is functioning with a scarcity of resources, having these conversations can prepare the group if an emergency were to take place.

Provide emotional intelligence training

Emotional intelligence isn’t a skill many people are taught. Yet having a difficult conversation with a manager about the need for flexibility is hard. “Why not equip managers to have a productive conversation so we keep business moving forward?” Brown says. Any industry has ebbs and flows in profitability, so training people when times are good and resources are strong is a good way to make sure the skills are always there, even on the worst day.

Assign workplace mentors

Somehow, when my son was a newborn, I stumbled upon a colleague who had a daughter with disabilities. She explained some of the resources available in the area. A situation that luckily fell into my lap. If an employer is aware that an employee is in a new caregiving situation, they can assign them a workplace mentor. 

A workplace mentor is a colleague who has managed a personal caregiving situation themselves and volunteers to be matched with an employee in a similar situation. The mentor can give guidance around when to take leave, how to use leave, what benefits are available, and how to use those benefits in a way human resources professionals may not understand if they haven’t gone through a similar situation themselves. The main goal is to empower the caregiver so they don’t feel isolated. You want them to feel like they have an ally in the workplace.

Create an employee resource group

Creating an employee resource group is another great option for caregiver support. Structured meetings with a relatable speaker followed by time for sharing can be valuable for employees who need a sense of community. “We want to create a work culture of belonging,” says Brown. “We don’t have to feel connected to everyone in the office. It can be a small group. But feeling supported is key.”

Other caregiver support

“Last year, Working Daughter asked nearly 700 family caregivers what they need from their employers to remain in the workforce,” O’Donnell says. The benefits they mentioned included backup eldercare, paid leave, caregiver coaching and assistance with household chores.” These benefits help caregivers manage a difficult time while allowing the company to retain top talent.

However an employer wants to be supportive, the most important thing to remember is to be tuned in to the individual’s needs, as they can shift and vary over time.

Photo by Nuva Frames/