By Cynthia Coverson
Caregivers make up a significant percentage of the workforce and are growing in number each year. Whether your clients have given thought about caregiving as a personnel issue or not, they may be surprised how much it can affect their business, particularly in a time of record-low unemployment when it’s more difficult to attract and retain talent. Caregiving ranks among employers’ top 10 employee health and wellness benefits priorities, according to a recent study by employer coalition NEBGH and the AARP.
The term “caregiver” can take on many different meanings, from caring for an aging parent to having a newborn child or handling family medical situations. With so many different generations in the workforce, it’s likely that a good percentage of employees are dealing with at least one of these issues at any given time – and a good number may be dealing with more than one.
Millennials – the largest contingent in the workforce – aren’t just recent college grads anymore; they are today’s parents. With their desire for a better work-life balance to handle their parenting responsibilities, this generation of employees is transforming the workforce. And, at the other end of the spectrum, your clients’ Baby Boomer and Gen X employees are also dealing with their own caregiving responsibilities, providing support for aging parents and/or spouses.
Taking on a caregiver role can be stressful and time-consuming for employees working full time. To address this issue, many employers are adding a wider array of voluntary benefit options that help employees address the issues they face as a caregiver. By educating employers on these benefits, you can help your clients to meet their employees’ needs, which will, in turn, increase loyalty and retention during a time of record-low unemployment.
Employees appreciate having access to benefits that help them to manage personal issues in their life — and they are willing to pay for it, according to MetLife’s most recent Employee Benefit Trends Study. Sixty percent of employees said they are willing to bear more of the cost in order to have a choice of benefits that meet their needs, according to the study. Offering a variety of voluntary benefit options, such as group legal plans, critical illness or disability, give employees access to services that can help them deal with personal issues. And best of all, these benefits can be added at little to no cost to the employer.
Offer the right benefits to support caregivers
One voluntary benefit that can give employees peace of mind when it comes to taking on a caregiver role is a group legal plan. There are many expensive legal issues that arise when caring for an aging family member. A legal plan can connect caregivers with attorneys who can provide answers to questions about Medicare or Medicaid, review nursing home agreements or give advice on a parent’s power of attorney or will. For new parents, a legal plan gives them access to attorneys that can draft the important estate planning documents they need to protect their new family.
Access to a legal plan makes the process of finding an attorney easy, as it connects employees with a network of attorneys that have been vetted and are committed to providing a high level of customer service. Employees don’t have to spend time searching around to find the right attorney, and they can work with attorneys by phone or email, which allows them to stay focused at work and to take less time off work.
The health of the caregivers themselves is important as studies have found that caregiving can take a significant toll on an individual’s health. According to an AARP survey, the percentage of caregivers reporting “fair or poor health” increases from 14 percent within first year to 20 percent after five years or more of providing care.
When a loved one is stricken with any number of disorders, it falls on caregivers to shuttle them to and from appointments, not to mention arrange for child care, keep the house organized and pay bills. Should a medical condition affect the caregiver, s/he now faces the inability to keep those going. That is why, when thinking about the healthcare needs of your clients’ employees who act as caregivers, two other benefits worth consideration are Disability and Critical Illness.
A disability policy helps to relieve stress on the caregiver, knowing that even if they are injured and have to take time off work, they won’t be without an income. This is particularly important to millennial and Gen X employees who may be in the “sandwich” of caring for both children and elderly parents, and need to have that steady stream of income in order to keep all three generations running in their families.
Critical Illness insurance provides a lump sum that is paid upon diagnosis and can be used for any purpose, including paying insurance co-pays, but also things unrelated to medical expenses, such as child care, housekeeping, pet sitting, or even travel and hotel costs if they need to go to a distant location for specialist care.
Ensure employees have the right information
Your clients’ voluntary benefits will only be successful in meeting the needs of caregivers if those individuals understand how the benefits work. Employers can help employees get the most out of their benefits by better communicating about them. This is especially true for harder to understand benefits like a legal plan or critical illness. Looking back at the situation of “sandwich” caregivers, spelling out how a disability benefit can help them keep things running is valuable information that they may never have considered.
One way that employers can get employees the right information on their benefits is through understanding how their employees like to receive benefit information. The MetLife Employee Benefit Trends Study found that a majority of employees prefer one-on-one consultations when learning about benefits, whether it be in person or on the phone. Employees also say that benefits handbooks and their company’s benefits website are the most effective resources to assist with benefit selection. Your clients don’t have to worry about creating all this information themselves, though: make sure they know that your brokerage or your carrier can provide communications, so everyone can get the information they need, even at smaller firms.
Research has also found that employees would like to receive benefit information year ’round, not just at annual enrollment. Tying in certain benefits with annual occasions or events, such as National Caregivers Month, can help employees see the ways the benefit can assist them – and most brokers or carriers can provide communications materials tailored to these timely events. To keep benefits top of mind for employees and provide information on their benefits whenever they need it, you’ll want to encourage your clients to keep standard communication materials easily available year-round on their company Intranet so that employees can access information about the benefit whenever they need it.
Another way that employers can make benefits easier to understand for their employees is by offering a streamlined enrollment process. To reduce the confusion with benefit offerings, it’s a good idea to make the enrollment process as simple as possible by putting all voluntary benefits on the ballot alongside other core benefits at annual enrollment time. By integrating legal plans, disability, or critical illness into their existing benefits program and offering them alongside traditional benefits, your clients not only demonstrate their support for the benefit, but also streamline their employees’ overall benefits experience and make it easier for them to choose their benefits.
While the issue of caregiving is not likely to go away anytime soon, the good news is that by providing a work-life balance, offering the right benefits and educating employees through proactive communication, employers can provide the support employees need to navigate these complicated life events.
Cynthia Coverson is senior vice president, regional business, in MetLife’s U.S. Group Benefits Business.