As our population ages, it’s inevitable that some employees will need to take on a caregiving role in addition to their full-time jobs.

In 2007, Worklife Canada estimated that this phenomenon is costing Canadian employers $2 billion annually in productivity (approximately $1 billion in absenteeism costs and another $1 billion to $2 billion in indirect costs).  As with all estimates, we should exercise caution in accepting numbers in blind faith, however, in this case, there are indications that the 2012 costs could be substantially higher.

High-performing organizations are beginning to understand the implications of these costs and utilize a variety of programs and strategies to address the issue.

A 2006 study by MetLife in the U.S. pegged the total cost of a caregiving employee at $2,110 per employee per year.  And, according to the 2009 study Balancing Paid Work and Caregiving Responsibilities: A Closer Look at Family Caregivers in Canada , approximately 27% of workers provide care to a loved one in any given year .Based on this data,  organizational costs could be as high as $550,000 per year per one thousand employees.

A University of Toronto analysis of labour market work and homecare’s unpaid caregivers showed that caregiving employees were likely to be out of the labour force, work fewer hours in the labour market, or to adjust work schedules to accommodate their caregiving responsibilities, and this is especially true for women and older caregivers. While the costs of these transitions and reductions in work statuses are difficult to quantify because training, recruiting and the productivity impact vary widely from organization to organization, it is safe to assume that the impact is not insignificant.

Some employers have begun to tackle the issue of caregiving in the workplace with effective strategies and programs that not only mitigate the impact on productivity, absenteeism and employee loss, but also provide much needed supports to enable employees to better cope with their caregiving situations. In some cases, employers are beginning to use this as a differentiator from a recruitment and retention perspective.

And often, employers are utilizing several of the following approaches to help solve the problem.

Education – Human resource professionals and front-line managers are being educated about the issues related to caregiving, including some of the tools that are at their fingertips such as compassionate care leaves of absences and benefits through provincial and federal employment insurance programs.

Care management and advocacy – These programs provide the employee with access to an expert case manager who can provide guidance, navigational support, case management and access to resources and services (such as homecare/back-up care and emergency monitoring services) to assist with the caregiving challenge. Typically these are inexpensive programs that are added to the employers benefit plan.

Paid leaves – Some employers have begun to provide short-term paid leaves of absence that can be used for a number of different reasons, including a caregiving situation. Most often, these programs offer three to five days that can be used on short notice throughout the year.

Back-up care services – Leading back-up care providers have services to address both childcare and eldercare needs. Care can be arranged on an emergency basis across the country as needed. In some cases, employers provide direct funding that can be used to pay for the care. These employer benefits plan add-ons can vary in cost depending on the amount of back-up care offered.  One top employer offers up to one hundred hours of back-up care to each employee annually as needed.

Employee assistance programs – Most employee assistance programs have expanded their offerings to include access to resources to help employees with caregiving challenges. These programs provide basic information about caregiving resources, which employees can then contact to arrange services.

Employers should begin to understand their employee population demographics and needs through analysis and dialogue as well as drill down on absenteeism and productivity reporting to get a better understanding on the impact of caregiving on their workplace.  This will enable the employer to demonstrate costs, expected return on investment and other important measures as they develop a needs based approach.

Employers can then discuss their options with their benefits advisor/provider as well as explore the options that are available in the market. High-performing organizations are addressing this challenge with a well-rounded approach that often includes several of the above strategies and programs.

Jamie Marcellus is vice-president, Eldercare Select, with First Health Care Services of Canada Inc.

Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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