A 42-year-old in Mumbai who works at a corporate company is always exhausted. Her mother, a retired advocate, fractured her spine two years ago, leaving her bedridden. Since then, the Mumbaiite, who works as a marketing head, has had to take on a more proactive role at home. But at work too, the pile of tasks seems unending.
“There are times when I don’t have an ounce of energy to do anything, which ultimately weakens my capacity to extend emotional support to my mother. Similarly, work takes a hit. On such days, I feel guilt-ridden and helpless," the employee, who doesn’t want to be named, confesses.
This isn’t an isolated case. Whether it’s taking care of ageing parents, raising a child with a disability or assuming charge of domestic responsibilities, caregiving takes on various forms and roles. What’s more, the burden of caregiving dramatically increased during covid-19 with the global health crisis particularly impacting the older population with comorbidities.
A global survey conducted by leading science and technology company Merck in 2021 revealed how almost four in 10 (39%) Indian millennials assumed the role of a caregiver for the first time during the pandemic, vis à vis the global average of 20%.
That’s not all. The average time carers spent caregiving grew by 7.6 hours a week to 24.2 hours, as compared to 16.6 hours during pre-pandemic times, reports the study.
“One of the most used words by caregivers is exhaustion, which happens at an emotional, mental and physical level. The paucity of time often leads to high levels of stress and an overwhelming sense of guilt for being unable to do everything," shares Nayamat Bawa, head therapist at IWill, a leading digital and AI-based mental health and wellness platform.
Unhealthy work-life balance
Among the several challenges that caregivers face is the struggle to maintain a work-life balance. Along with their workplace roles, caregiver employees often have to provide medical assistance, manage transportation and medical appointments, and engage in housework. While caregiver workers are the fastest-growing category of employee groups as reported by workplace equity platform Syndio, most confess to being at the receiving end of their superiors for their inability to stay at work for long hours.
In many cases, such employees–particularly women–end up leaving their jobs.
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“Until remote work was an option, I somehow dealt with the pressure at work. Once my workplace turned hybrid, it was hard for me to take care of an ailing spouse and meet deadlines at work; I had no time to myself. After stretching myself thin for several months, I suffered a massive burnout that impacted my physical and mental health. That’s when I decided to quit my job," says a 35-year-old sales lead from Delhi, who does not wish to be named.
For caregivers who try to keep their jobs, their productivity takes a beating. As per a study by Harvard Business School, 53% of the respondents admitted to starting work late or leaving work early; 15% brought down their work hours, while 14% often took a leave of absence.
It’s not just women who are heavily burdened; men face the ire of bosses’ time and again but don’t have the option to quit, especially if they are a family’s only earning member.
“In 2022, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. The frequent visits to the hospital along with delivering targets at work took a toll on me. I lost my appetite, stopped meeting friends and became a recluse. Soon after, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Despite my debilitating condition, I had to carry on because I am the sole breadwinner in the family," says a 37-year-old account manager at a Gurugram-based advertising firm.
Performing these dual roles every day could have serious ramifications on an individual’s physical, emotional health and financial well-being, says professor KV Gopakumar, faculty member, organisational behaviour area at IIM Ahmedabad.
“Companies need to transform from a culture of control to a culture of compassion. Leadership needs to embrace vulnerability and learn empathy," says Kanika Agarwal, CEO and co-founder at MindPeers, a mental health platform for specialised therapy.
The first step for companies must be to provide flexible work arrangements where caregiver employees could work at a time and place convenient to them, advises Gopakumar.
An August article in Harvard Business Review states: “The hidden cost to companies for not supporting caregivers can also be high when factoring in turnover, lost institutional knowledge, and absenteeism. However, the conversation about supporting caregivers at work has typically focused on employee well-being, not the benefits to employers."
Hyperlocal discovery app magicpin has adopted a remote-first work policy that provides its caregiver employees with greater autonomy over time management.
“While many tech companies moved away from a remote model post-pandemic, we have continued to work in this mode. Not only have we witnessed a higher employee happiness index, this work model has also resulted in increased productivity and work-life balance," says Anshoo Sharma, CEO and co-founder at magicpin. “By offering flexibility and fostering a culture of empathy, we are able to motivate our caregiver employees to continue contributing to the success of the company."
Also read: Why women need more flexible workplaces
Recently, Procter & Gamble (P&G) Health announced a caregiving policy for its employees who support children with special needs (up to 18 years of age) that includes medical coverage, a hospitalisation programme and treatment for disabilities. The company also rolled out the India Day Care Policy that offers daycare support to children of employees aged between six months to six years.
At PepsiCo India, caregivers have extra leave benefits to support their needs. Additionally, they are offered business-related travel aid where the company covers travel, meals, and lodging expenses for a child of up to two years of age and one caretaker, making it easier for the caregiver to fulfil their work responsibilities while also taking care of the child.
“We also have a comprehensive medical policy that focuses on the physical and mental health of our employees. The flexible insurance policy allows employees to personalise benefits and include family members who need financial assistance," a Pepsico India spokesperson explains.
Companies could also help caregivers by facilitating access to various kinds of resources. Since a significant amount of caregiver time is lost in care-related research, employers could free up this burden by providing access to appropriate eldercare or childcare resources.
“This could include conducting specific well-being-related sessions, training, or workshops for employees to ease their burden. Lastly, companies could work towards developing an organisational culture where caregiving employees feel free to communicate their needs," reiterates Gopakumar.
Self care for caregiver employees:
By Nayamat Bawa, head therapist at iWill
Self care is one of the most important yet neglected aspects of caregiving. Such individuals get so consumed in fulfilling personal and professional responsibilities that they don’t get any time to themselves.
Here are some tips that can prove to be helpful:
- Organise your chores at home and focus on what you can do. Accept help wherever possible.
2. At work, clearly communicate to your superiors regarding the duties you can take on. Do not overcommit and delegate whenever necessary.
3. Use your time while commuting to unwind. Read a book, listen to music or put on a motivational podcast.
4. Consume a balanced diet and keep yourself hydrated. Don’t skip meals.
5. Take out some time to focus on yourself and not your caregiving duties. It could be as little as 10 minutes every single day when you sit in silence.
6. Make exercise a priority even if it means stepping out for a short walk or dancing to your favourite song.
7. Prioritise sleep for your mind and body to function better.
Geetika Sachdev is a writer and journalist.
- FIRST PUBLISHED25.09.2023 | 06:30 AM IST