Another Pandemic Business Side Effect: Caregiving Benefits

The pandemic and school shutdowns created a caregiving crisis of monumental proportions. Working mothers left jobs to care for remote schooled children for as much as a year in many areas. When school started in 2020, one estimate is that 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce, and the participation rate for women in the workforce continues to drop. As of March 2021, the workforce participation rate for men over the age of 19 was 69.5%, and for women it was 57.4%i.

Experts agree that a worker-caregiver problem has existed for decades, but the pandemic brought the extent of the problem into focus. The trials of the pandemic provided lessons in how to provide consistency in output for the employer while giving flexibility to the worker. While this balancing act has been around for a while, it was exasperated by the pandemic.

One thing that surprised many employers was that their expectation of lower productivity from at-home workers was not realized. Generally, even the largest of companies found that work-at-home employees were as productive as before, some even more so. Surveys also found that they were happier working from home.

Transitioning to Work-at-Home Growing

The positive results from forced work-at-home arrangements have resulted in many organizations making it a permanent part of their business. In an effort to retain valuable employees, companies are using the experiences of the pandemic to make changes necessary for a permanent turn to more work-at-home situations, especially for caregivers. Smart companies understand that becoming a better company where women, and particularly caregivers, want to work will require active efforts to attract and retain qualified women, both in-office and working at home.

The Society for Human Resource Management found that many women worry about the harmful effects to their career of temporarily dropping out of the workforce for family and caregiver functions. The study showed that 27% of working women who also act as caregivers found that the pandemic had damaged their professional development. Only 10 percent of men said the same.

HR Changes to Accommodate Caregiver Workers

Care.com conducted a survey of 500 HR managers. They are reevaluating the kinds of benefits they offer employees and eliminating the gap between what employers need and the needs of caregiver employees. More than 60% of survey respondents said that they would increase childcare benefits. 40% stated that they would expand benefits for elder care.

While none of the challenges are new, they were highlighted by the COVID shutdowns and forced work-at-home arrangements. Employers found themselves using Zoom for communications and seeing into the homes of their employees while doing so. They could see the challenges faced by their employees from children and others in the home setting. Employers could see a direct impact on performance of childcare.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas surveyed 200 HR executives and 84% of them are offering employees more flexibility. Many of the changes are related specifically to caregiver obligations. 40% of respondents stated that they are offering greater flexibility to parents. Also:

  • 23% are expanding paid time off.
  • 13% are offering childcare options.

95% stated that the changes they are making would be permanent.

Employers may have been forced into change by the pandemic, but they are finding that lessons learned will improve their workforce and companies.

i Pandemic Silver Lining? – NBCNews.com

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