When we think of leave, we often think of parental leave, but with 75% of US workers having some kind of caregiving responsibilities, progressive and competitive companies need to broaden their scope to ensure caregivers of all types are supported. The consequences of not doing so have real financial and professional impacts for employees and their employers. To better understand these consequences and offer some tips for companies to work towards a more inclusive culture of caregiving, we assembled this panel discussion, “The cost of not caring: What companies lose without a caregiving culture” with our co-founder, Lauren Dai, and Carolyn Frey, the Chief People Officer at Hungryroot. Read on for a recap of the panel, or watch the full recording below.
Why caregiving is a topic near and dear to our hearts
As Lauren was founding Cocoon, her mother confessed that when her own mother was diagnosed with cancer, she didn’t take leave because of the fear of stigma and not understanding her rights and benefits—something she deeply regretted, but that pushed Lauren further in her mission. Meanwhile, Carolyn’s mother is blind and requires around-the-clock care. On top of that, both Lauren and Carolyn are both high-powered working moms, contending with taking care of a suddenly sick kiddo or getting everybody out the door for school right before a 9am board meeting. Caregiving is a vulnerable topic for a lot of people, and each person’s situation is different—leading Laruen to ask the guiding question, “how do we enable folks to have these experiences with their loved ones without regret, and with as much presence as possible, while also doing the work and having impact in our day-to-day?”
Caregiving comes in all shapes and sizes
As Lauren noted, “when we think of caregiving, we often think of parents,” but it’s important to expand that notion. Caregivers encompass a diverse group of incredible individuals, often balancing big responsibilities with remarkable resilience and capacity. “These are employees we want to care for,” Lauren stated, “not just because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s because they have a ton of capacity to deal with work and personal-related things,” giving them a unique skill set and an opportunity to make a huge impact in work and life.
Carolyn saw the pandemic as a great equalizer, shedding new light into all the different types of caregiving situations that include multi-generational caretakers, or even a roommate caring for another roommate. Beyond that, it also became clear just how much of the population is involved in caregiving, with 3 out of 4 employees having some sort of caregiving responsibility, regardless of age or life stage. Carolyn encourages leaders and managers to engage in meaningful discussions, ask the right questions, and learn what the right questions are.
How to empower caregivers
In order to empower caregivers, Carolyn had two big tips for leadership:
- Start with “charitable assumptions.” If something seems off or performance isn’t up to par, instead of assuming bad intentions on the employee’s part, assume they’re trying to give their best but something is getting in the way of that—then find out what that is. Start with a check in—but make it comfortable, not an accusation. Maybe you’ll learn they’re not sleeping well or are under a lot of stress. From here you can work towards a solution.
- Model the company culture you want to have. When leaders can be role models that speak up, share their experiences, and learn and listen to others doing the same, this can be the difference between having a good caregiver leave policy and caregiving culture on paper versus truly creating an environment where they thrive and come to life.
The cost of not supporting caregivers
While we didn’t get down to dollars and cents in our panel, Lauren noted the huge macroeconomic and social impact of two million women leaving the workforce during the pandemic to care for children suddenly without in-person schooling or daycare, or to care for ill family members—a gap we’re still feeling into 2024. Attrition and low engagement can be two major detractors for companies who don’t have a caregiver leave policy or aren’t putting an inclusive caregiving culture into practice. And these don’t just impact the leave takers themselves, but other teammates not being properly supported or compensated for extra work taken on, or simply being turned off by how their company handled a teammate’s situation.
“Going on leave is a key inflection point in someone’s career,” Lauren emphasized, “and a leave taker falls in and out of love with their company based on how they step up for you or not.”
Steps to support caregivers
To round out the panel, we also explored pragmatic and cost-effective strategies to initiate positive changes to support caregivers in the workplace. Contrary to what you might think, they don’t need to entail offering financial assistance or dedicated childcare. Carolyn talked several effective “free” ways to move in the right direction:
- Offer flexibility in how work gets done. Are there changes that can be made around scheduling, both in terms of the hours worked and even when and how meetings are scheduled? Do you need to reconsider your “video always on” culture?
- Support with other benefits. Benefits like mental health support or wellness stipends not only benefit caregivers, but also the average employee. You can even extend support through existing benefits—it might just be how you message and package them.
- Get leadership buy-in. Everything starts from the top, and the core ethos and values of the company are reflected in the actions and attitudes of those leading the way.
Both Lauren and Carolyn stressed the importance of not trying to go from 0 to 100, but to at least take the first step from zero to one, as any step forward is meaningful. And for companies already working towards an inclusive company culture of caregiving, it is helpful to share any data, policy language, and benchmarks so we can all start setting a standard for the industry and bring it into professional conversations.
The final takeaway
Overall, the panel underscored the urgent need for companies to support caregivers beyond traditional leave policies to truly make inclusive caregiving culture part of their DNA. With a majority of US workers juggling diverse caregiving roles beyond just parenting, companies that ignore this necessity are bound to face higher turnover and lower engagement, which come with financial and productivity costs. Lauren and Carolyn left viewers with the tips and words of wisdom to the transformative power of even small steps towards an inclusive caregiving culture. Ultimately, this dialogue is a call for organizations to embrace meaningful change in supporting caregivers, shaping compassionate and inclusive workplaces—because someday, any day, any one of us could be called to care.