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Why More Employers Are Investing in Caregiver ERGs

Find out how employee resource groups benefit family caregivers and the companies they work for

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Kiersten Essenpreis

Suppose that you were in the midst of a presentation at your work when you were advised that your elderly mother — whom you had been helping to caretake in your home for years — was extremely ill. 

What would you do?

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For Gene Lanzoni, head of enterprise content at Guardian, this was a most painful reality in 2013. His decision to finish his presentation before leaving to tend to his ailing mom is what ultimately convinced him that something had to be done to change not only his own perspective but that of the workplace. “I was struggling and I needed to leave, but at the time, I didn’t think it was the best thing career-wise to step out,” he says.

Since then Lanzoni’s employer has helped to create and support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) — which offer workers resources and services in the workplace and at home so that employees can problem-solve and share life experiences on a host of issues including caretaking for older adults and loved ones. The rise of ERGs in general — a report from McKinsey & Co. and notes that 35 percent of companies have added or expanded their support for ERGs since the start of 2020 — including ones for caregiving make sense, especially since according to AARP research, 61 percent of family caregivers also hold down a job with the majority (60 percent) working more than 40 hours or more per week.

Guardian now has nine ERGs for everything from workplace diversity to disability issues. And Lanzoni voluntarily stepped up to colead the caregiver ERG, aptly named CARE (Caregivers Advocating for Resources and Empowerment).

The CARE ERG has more than 600 members, many of whom attend monthly informational meetings, share best-practice tips and support one another by normalizing workplace discussions about caretaking for older adults. Lanzoni says his role is to let as many employees as possible know that they have a place to go at work for caregiving help.

ERGs normalize caregiving conversations at work

“Elder care has lagged behind child care in the employee space,” says Tricia Sandiego, director of business integration at AARP Programs. “Sometimes there’s a stigma associated with elderly caregiving such as: Are you distracted and not able to focus on your job?”

Thanks, in part, to these ERGs, that misperception is changing.

ERGs — particularly those focused on helping employees care for aging parents or elderly spouses with special needs as they age — are slowly transforming the dynamics of the American workplace.

“America has six generations of people in the workforce, so we have to acknowledge that elderly care is a reality for many of us,” says Farzana Nayani, consultant and author of The Power of Employee Resource Groups: How People Create Authentic Change.

Guardian has addressed that reality by hosting webinars with speakers, coffee chats, and lunchtime get-togethers replete with advice, tips, and a mutual sharing of caregiving experiences. The company has also partnered with caregiving specialist Bright Horizons to offer employees benefits, such as back-up care.

How do you start a caregiving ERG?

There are several steps employees can take to get a caregiving ERG off the ground at their workplace.

  • Seek support from the top. Getting buy-in from senior leadership at the company is key, says Lanzoni. It has to be tied closely to the company purpose and be part of the culture.
  • Find like-minded workers. Seek at least five to seven workplace peers who share the same interest and are passionate about it, says Nayani.
  • Contact HR. Reach out to the company’s HR department and learn about company policies on starting and funding ERGs.
  • Establish a charter. Clarify the exact purpose of the group and clarify how often and where it will meet, says Nayani.
  • Invite all to attend. Do outreach to all employees to attend open meetings.
  • Create a calendar of events. Keep the events interesting, relevant and informative.
  • Get feedback. Seek regular input from group members — and nonmembers — about what they like and don’t like about the group.

But starting — and running — ERGs for older adults has its challenges. After all, points out AARP’s Sandiego, ERGs rely largely on volunteers. And who has less free time available to volunteer than those who are working as family caregivers? AARP itself deals with this very issue, she says, by relying on its internal HR team to help schedule events, book speakers and identify member needs.

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‘You’re not alone’

More than one decade ago, Ijeoma Emeka, senior vice president of portfolio delivery at Bank of America, joined the company’s caregiving ERG called the Parents and Caregivers Employee Network.

“I joined to find support from those who are like me,” she says. She has three school-age children with her at home in Charlotte, North Carolina; aging parents in Atlanta who need her assistance; and a grandmother in Miami who needs caregiving support from a distance.

Now, Emeka is cochair of the bank’s caregiving network.

When the B of A caregiving network first started in 2012, its membership was in the hundreds. By 2017, the membership was up to 4,000 employees. By 2020, that number had more than tripled to 13,000. And now membership exceeds 30,000 employees, Emeka says.

What’s the most important benefit she’s received from being a member? 

“It’s an opportunity to understand you’re not alone,” she says. “You can get support from someone going through similar struggles.”

To facilitate the quarterly caregiving meetings — which are both in-person and virtual — Bank of America recently began to work with AARP to arrange the topics and speakers for the gatherings. At the same time, she says, B of A also is working with AARP to train its own managers on how to support employees who are caregivers.

These services are offered free to Bank of America employees — which has also partnered with Bright Horizons to help with employee caregiving services. To assist her grandmother from long-distance with occasional caregiving needs, Emeka says she’s requested and received backup care assistance from Bright Horizons.

“That’s been a game-changer for me,” says Emeka.

The same service is available to all B of A employees, she says.

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Building a supportive community through caregiving ERGs

But it’s not just big corporations that have caregiving ERGs. So do a growing number of colleges and universities for employees and staff. 

About three years ago, Jaimie Hutchison started the Adult Caregiver Employee Resource Group at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

She and her spouse both found themselves in stressful situations where they were trying to help older parents living out of state — one parent suffering from dementia and the other ailing with Alzheimer’s and congestive heart failure.

“This cemented the need for making connections, because it can feel so isolating,” says Hutchison, who is MSU’s WorkLife Office Director.

Once she began reaching out to other employees, she discovered that the demand was huge. But while many workers were very willing to talk about the need for child care, few were as open to discussing the need for adult care. “So, we decided to build a community for those in this situation,” she says.

Now, the group meets regularly and it’s connecting some school employees with adult caregiving help they didn’t know was available. They have speakers on a range of topics from making a home safe for aging parents, to what to know about wills, trusts and passwords.

“This is a way we can think of our employees as wholly human,” Hutchison says.

Beyond employee interest and engagement, a successful ERG requires funding from the company. In smaller companies, that can be in the hundreds of dollars, but in larger companies it can be in the thousands of dollars — particularly if the organizer opts to serve meals to attract attendees and solicit paid speakers, agrees Nayani and Lanzoni.

Post-pandemic surge in caregiving ERG interest

Why are caregiving ERGs specifically for older adults often the last ERGs formed at many companies? Why have they, broadly speaking, been laggards but are showing up now with much greater frequency?

In a word: COVID.

The world instantly changed after COVID ended and folks had to get back to work, says Lanzoni. Suddenly, family caregivers for older adults had new impetus to balance their work and personal lives.

At the same time, new data and market research is verifying that caregiving for loved ones has evolved into a substantive issue at the workplace.

And ERGs may help ease the isolation that so often comes with caregiving. “We want to prevent caregivers from feeling like they are alone," Sandiego says. “You might join one and discover that the person right down the hall from you is also caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s.”

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