Caregiving for loved ones is a constant and often invisible reality of American life. Around 53 million—one in five adults—Americans are caregivers. There is an immense emotional cost and also a substantial fiscal cost. One study found that quitting work to care for a loved one cost the American economy 20.6 in missed wages. This is not an abstract problem. If 21% of American adults are caregivers, that includes some of your employees. Pressed by the need to provide care, many employees feel they have no other option than to leave their job. The cost of hiring a new employee can be upwards of $4,000. Given those costs, it behooves employers financially as well as ethically to provide a supportive environment for those seeking to balance their career with their role as a caregiver. Here are four principles to make your institution caregiver friendly.


  1. Demonstrate your interest. Many employees hesitate to discuss their needs as a caregiver. While you should respect any privacy they want to maintain, you can also express support when they do mention the stresses they face. Simply knowing that you appreciate the hardships they are facing can make a significant difference on employee morale.


  2. Be flexible. Caregiving responsibilities do not always follow a tidy schedule. Appointments need to be kept. Situations swell. Emergencies happen. Let your employees know you are available to discuss how you can be flexible with hours or workdays to enable them to meet all their responsibilities at home and at work. Ask for clear communication from them and reciprocate by being clear about priorities, so they know how they can achieve the necessary objectives.


  3. Make policies accessible. Navigating Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is complex, and usually by the time an employee needs to take time off, they are already in a stressful situation. Have a section in your employee handbook outlining the procedure to initiate any necessary time off. Make your HR staff available to assist with the necessary paperwork and to advice on the best options.


  4. Stay in touch. If an employee does take some time off to care for a loved one, consider sending an occasional gesture of support. Whether that’s flowers once a month, a gift card to a food delivery service, or a card signed by their colleagues, they will be grateful to know that they are still a valued member of your team, even while they are away.