Employers test benefits for unpaid caregivers

Companies are expressing a growing interest in helping their employees care for elderly or disabled loved ones, according to the Northeast Business Group on Health.
With lost productivity and turnover from caregiving costing U.S. employers $38 billion per year, members of the employer-led coalition are trying out new approaches to address caregivers’ needs, including expanding partnerships with providers and implementing more flexible leave policies, according to a report released this month by the business group and AARP.

CBS Corp., Goldman Sachs, consulting group EY, Northwell Health and other major employers based in the New York City area participated in a roundtable discussion about their caregiver benefits that helped inform the report.

One of the biggest challenges employers face is reaching out to a new generation of caregivers, said Dr. Jeremy Nobel, medical director of NEBGH and one of the authors of the report. Millennials now make up 25% of caregivers, according to a 2015 AARP report.

“In that population, caregiving is not something people talk about every day,” said Nobel.

On the plus side, he said, there are more and more digital tools that millennials may find appealing to help with such tasks as monitoring relatives at home and managing their meals, rides and other logistics.

“One of the challenges is a lot of the digital providers are not that familiar with contracting with employers,” said Nobel. “They are typically more in a direct-to-consumer business model.”

Employers could also leverage their purchasing power to make paid caregiving more affordable and easier to manage for employees, he added.

CBS, for example, subsidizes services for employees through Bright Horizons, which offers families “backup” care for children and elders when other arrangements have fallen through. CBS is also among the companies leveraging existing benefits to address the needs of caregivers by making services such as its Health Advocate program available to employees’ parents and in-laws.

“The ROI argument is that whatever it costs to put the mind of the caregiver at ease and put the loved one in high-quality care will also put the employer’s mind at ease and build employee loyalty,” said Nobel.

NEBGH is in the early stages of its investigation, said Nobel. The group plans to release more specific findings and recommendations by the third quarter of this year. —C.L.