Caregiving Adds Stress for Many in the Workforce

Striking the right work-life balance is an issue many employees struggle with, and it’s an issue for employers as they strive to create quality working environments that are essential to recruiting and keeping the best employees.

Pennsylvania’s aging population – nearly 1 in 5 Pennsylvanians is 65 or older – adds a new factor to the already delicate work-life equation: many in our workforce serve as unpaid caregivers to an elderly or ailing family member.

A new study from the BlueCross BlueShield Association finds these caregivers have poorer health than the general population due to the added stress and pressure of the caregiver role. The study also found:

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the demand for, and the intensity of, caregiving. This has led to an increase of selfreported stress, isolation, and loneliness among caregivers.

1 in 4 unpaid caregivers reports feeling more stress trying to balance work and family due to COVID-19.

The health differences associated with caregiving are more pronounced for millennials (those ages 22 to 37) than for Gen X (ages 38 to 53) and baby boomers (ages 54 to 64).

Similarly, the health differences are larger for caregivers who live in communities with a majority Black or Latino population than it is for caregivers who live in communities with a majority white population.

For employers, the added burdens faced by caregivers can impact the bottom line.

“It’s understandable that the stress of an employee’s home situation can carry over into the workplace and negatively impact their on-the-job performance,” said Karie Batzler, director of behavioral health at Capital BlueCross. “An employee who is overwhelmed or distracted by the responsibilities of caregiving might struggle with lost productivity or even absenteeism, which can impact their job performance and cause an unintended ripple effect thereby raising the stress levels of coworkers.”

Employers can help alleviate these issues for caregivers in part by raising awareness of the need for preventive care.

Wellness visits and other preventive measures can help identify physical and mental health issues earlier, helping to mitigate the negative impacts and, in some cases, deter employees/caregivers from resorting to unhealthy options such as alcohol or tobacco use.

The use of telehealth technology – providing medical services through phone or video conference – also can be a useful tool for caregivers who lack the time for in-person visits with a medical professional. Capital BlueCross, for example, offers a Virtual Care app that provides easy access to physicians, counselors, or psychiatrists from the convenience of home.

To address COVID-19 concerns, Capital BlueCross is even offering eligible members free Virtual Care medical, psychiatry, and counseling visits through October 23, 2020, and providing the medical visits to non-members at a discounted rate.

“Giving caregivers better access to resources to help them maintain their physical and mental health is always important, but even more so when we are in the midst of a pandemic,” Batzler said. “If we can help caregivers take better care of themselves, it helps them be better caregivers … and it can help them to feel less stressed and more productive outside of the caregiving role.”