Employee caregivers: The impact on productivity and what to do about it

Posted April 6, 2016 5:30 p.m. EDT

Estimates show that are providing care for a sick or frail loved one or friend at home while also employed.

This contributes to a condition called "presenteeism" -- those times when an employee is at work but not fully functioning due to their own illness or one in their family they are trying to handle.

The impact on productivity

Harvard Business Review reports that about $150 billion is lost each year in time productivity due to presenteeism.

Experts admit that is more challenging to measure than its counterpart -- absenteeism -- because employers clearly know when an employee is not at work, but they can't truly tell when an employee is distracted mentally or too tired to focus while physically on the job.

For caregivers, productivity is affected by fatigue, arriving at work late or leaving early, and spending time during work hours on the phone or online tending to caregiving issues. Most employees, however, still aim to give their employers 100 percent while on the job, adding to their stress and exhaustion.

How to help employee caregivers

Many employees take on the duties of caregiving because they don't know any alternatives -- or think they can't afford outside help.

A great way to help employee caregivers is to make sure they know about available community resources that can assist. A variety of services may even be available at no cost to the patient or family.

"We offer comprehensive assistance, including family caregiver skill training, educational online videos and connections to other caregiver resources," said Nicole Bruno, co-founder and executive director of Transitions GuidingLights Caregiver Support Center.

For people with any chronic serious illness, palliative care services help manage pain and other symptoms, including anxiety and stress. A care plan is coordinated with the patient's doctor to keep the patient comfortable and able to enjoy a higher quality of life.

"Palliative care is often provided in tandem with disease-directed treatments such as chemotherapy, and can help offset side effects," explained Laura Patel, M.D., chief medical officer for Transitions LifeCare.

Another benefit is that palliative care is provided by nurse practitioners and other medical staff wherever the patient calls home. Services are covered by Medicare Part B, Medicaid and most private insurance companies.

If a patient has a life expectancy of about 6 months or less, and is seeking comfort rather than a cure, hospice care provides expert medical, emotional and spiritual care. A team of doctors, nurses, social workers, home health aides and specially trained volunteers provide services wherever the patient calls home. Emotional and spiritual support is available for the entire family.

"Through our hospice services, medications related to the terminal illness and necessary medical equipment -- such as a hospital bed, oxygen and a wheelchair -- are included and delivered right to the patient's home. Services are typically covered in full by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance," said Deb Norcross, RN, CHPN, director of hospice for Transitions LifeCare.

Perhaps the best ways to assist employee caregivers is to empathize with their situation and make sure they know how to get help with the caregiving itself.

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