What Employers Should Be Doing to Help Alleviate Working Caregivers’ Mental Loads

06/22/2022 Written by: In partnership with Debi Yadegari, Founder & CEO of Villyge

Working parents and caregivers are carrying heavy mental loads. Whether they’re in the midst of a stressful pregnancy, navigating the ups and downs of fertility, struggling with childcare, or caring for aging parents, a large percentage of any organization is trying to juggle the weight of their careers with the weight of these significant life events – and many are beginning to crash.


The Post-Pandemic Workplace: A Catalyst for a Culture Shift

COVID-19 forced a major shift in the way employees and employers engaged and interacted. The great balancing act that working parents and caregivers had struggled with for years was finally shoved into the spotlight thanks to Zoom’s “camera-on” culture. For the first time, employers and managers saw employees struggle to balance remote schooling, quarantines, extra-curricular activities, household chores and, of course, their professional demands. While these were always factors in employees’ lives, suddenly it was being broadcast for all to see.

This radical visibility did more than just give a glimpse into employees’ authentic lives, it also shined a big, bright light on what working parents and caregivers needed to be successful at work and outside - the support of their employer. Many companies quickly dove in, doubling down on flex-time and offering alternative work arrangements; some even provided mental health support. While these additional benefits were steps in the right direction, they fell short of delivering long-term consistent relief - the type designed to empower employees to succeed at work and at home. It was the inability to integrate these (often) competing demands that was the greatest contributor to the “great resignation” and “great reassessment” for working parents and caregivers. 

And now, we find ourselves amidst a cultural revolution where all employees - but especially working parents and caregivers - expect their employers to care, personally and professionally.  This is a radical shift! And as such, companies are now struggling to revamp their priorities and elevate the employee experience, lest they lose additional talent and suffer further dips in productivity.

To alleviate the mental load of working parents and caregivers in a meaningful way, employers are now recognizing they must provide personalized support that addresses the particular struggles of the employee, be it getting their toddler to sleep through the night or assessing care options for their aging parent, and beyond. But employee support alone is NOT enough. Today, companies must also empower managers to lead with empathy through employees’ critical life events, providing managers with the situational awareness and guidance needed to support employees through their personal journeys. 

Empathetic Managers Matter

An organizational framework that supports employees’ mental health and well-being is critical to success – managers play a vital role in workers’ happiness and success.

To excel, working parents and caregivers need their direct managers to empathize with their day-to-day struggles and understand and anticipate how IVF treatments, a complicated pregnancy, losing a loved one, or transitioning an aging parent into long-term care impacts every aspect of their life, work included.

This, of course, puts an unanticipated burden on managers – a burden they may or may not be ready to handle. While the majority of organizations provide some level of skills training to managers, just 20% offer any type of empathy training or support. Considering 80% of CEOs consider empathy key to success, it’s clear this is an area sorely lagging when it comes to evolving leaders and organizations. In fact, 54% of all employees have left jobs because their boss was NOT sympathetic to their struggles in their personal life.

Despite the recognized need for managerial empathy, the majority of training tends to revolve around traditional aspects of leadership – think performance reviews, delegation, and training. But those skills won’t lighten an employees’ mental load or keep working parents and caregivers on track for long-term career success. Employees don’t care what managers know, until they know managers care. Managers today are expected to stand empathetically in their employees’ shoes, but in most cases, they lack the know-how or ability to do so.

Afterall, it is impossible for any leader to understand the intricacies of all life events (e.g., miscarriage, international adoption, surrogacy, loss of a loved one, menopause, divorce, eldercare, etc.) and how those life events will affect the employee and team (e.g., during a foster to adopt scenario, a social worker will show up unannounced and the employee will need to drop zoom or race home; or that someone going through the fertility process will have weekly doctor appointments and be unable to travel for work; or why someone going through menopause appears to be melting on zoom, or needs the windows open in the middle of a snowstorm, etc.).  And HR cannot provide this ongoing know-how. Managers need help.

Caregiver Support Programs Matter

We’ve already seen a mass exodus of talent from the workplace. The pandemic has caused many professionals to reevaluate priorities, and when current employers aren’t offering empathetic, family-friendly workplaces, they’re finding new employers that do.

Employees today expect much more from their managers. Specific training closes the gap between company intentions and the actual employee experience, increasing the chances of success - at home and at work. The end results? Happier, more productive employees, successful managers, lessened risk of litigation, and significant bottom-line boosts – it’s a win/win/win.

While shifting focus from more traditional to more holistic employee support isn’t necessarily easy, it’s needed. The resources are available to create a culture that supports working parents and caregivers in their personal and professional lives, and the upside is clear. Now is the time for employers to think beyond the traditional and make the evolutionary change their employees, and managers, need and deserve. To learn about how to implement these key initiatives for your employees, contact your AssuredPartners Employee Benefits advisor today.

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