The Shadow Workforce: Let’s Talk Mental Health

I once heard an intriguing question: Do Lipton employees take coffee breaks? That’s analogous to the question: Should employers require the same expectations of all employees no matter the excuse if circumstances were to greatly differ?

As the economy begins to show signs of improvement, a new shadow workforce that emerged in more tumultuous times continues to impact the morale, productivity and cost associated with every business across the nation: The caregiver in the workforce.

Fifty-nine percent of informal caregivers have jobs in addition to caring for another person. Double jobs, double demands, double trouble. About one in five workers is currently involved in some level of caregiving. Studies show nearly half of parents of children with mental health disorders reported that at some time, they had to quit work to care for their children.

Absenteeism, replacing employees who quit to provide care and other caregiving-related activities can have serious financial consequences to employers.

As a result of family caregiving responsibilities, a tremendous amount of talent, loyalty and institutional knowledge leave the workforce every day, either temporarily or full-time. What type of workforce dynamics is at play here?

The World of the Shadow Workforce

At any given time, 20 percent or more of the workforce is confronted with a caregiving situation:

  • 33 percent of caregivers decrease the number of hours they work.
  • 29 percent quit their jobs or retire early.
  • 22 percent take a leave of absence.
  • 20 percent change their job status or go part-time.
  • 53 percent of caregivers admit that their job performance is negatively affected.
  • 84 percent make caregiving related phone calls during business hours.
  • 68 percent arrive late or leave early.
  • 67 percent take time off from work during the day.

As businesses strive to survive, the costs of staying in business is a factor of increasing productivity in every sector of their enterprise. By joining together, employers and caregivers can make a difference in the workplace in a way that strengthens the caregiver’s capacity to support and provide resources to their families and children with special needs and help the employer sustain productivity.

Steps For Employers And Human Resource Managers

We recommend the following steps to employers and human resource managers as starters:

  • Review policies and procedures that may affect caregivers-such as alternative or flexible work schedule policies, sick and personal leave policies, and mandatory overtime policies to be sure the policies and their administration are nondiscriminatory. While employers are not obligated to accommodate employees’ family responsibilities, the employer policies and practices must be implemented without regard to protected class.
  • Conduct management training on caregiver responsibility discrimination, particularly for those in a position to make hiring, firing, promotion and scheduling decisions. This way, managers can learn to identify issues relating to caregiver discrimination, involve human resources as appropriate, and avoid workplace comments or decisions that could suggest discriminatory treatment.

There is not a single business or employer unaffected by mental health issues in the workplace. We need to get on the same track and create a triple win-win-win for children families and employers.

I would like to hear from readers. Send your comments to [email protected]

Oscar Wright, Ph.D, is the CEO of the United Advocates for Children and Families (UACF), a statewide nonprofit that provides support to parent, families, children and youth experiencing mental illness.