For months from our respective vantage points in the healthcare system, we have pondered the cause of front-line workers leaving their jobs. According to a study published in October, 1 out of 5 healthcare workers has resigned or retired—and another 20% are considering leaving healthcare altogether. Early into a new year, we think it's time to do something about it.
As employers evaluate how to protect, retain and support healthcare workers, one serious issue that must be addressed is unpaid caregiving responsibilities, which are more than doubling the mental impacts for working caregivers (or "double-duty" caregivers). ARCHANGELS data shows that 43% of adults across the U.S. are serving as an unpaid caregiver–and we believe they need more resources from employers to care for themselves and their loved ones.
An unpaid caregiver is a parent, guardian or a person caring for someone over age 18, like an aging parent or spouse. According to ARCHANGELS data, many unpaid caregivers do not recognize their role—in their heads they are "just a son" or "a wife." We need to acknowledge that many of our paid healthcare workers are also unpaid caregivers and they neglect to recognize the double impact of these roles. As a result, they may be negating their own feelings of anxiety, depression and exhaustion.
The reality is that caring for someone at home, at work or in your community is intense and can impact all aspects of our lives, including our willingness and ability to continue employment.
Last summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study revealing that 70% of all caregivers reported at least one adverse mental health symptom, including anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts. For those caregivers who fall in the "sandwich generation''—caring for children as well as an adult—a staggering 52% report recent, serious suicidal thoughts. Can you imagine being responsible for patient care during a deadly pandemic and still caring for others at home? Healthcare workers need a break, and employers and the larger community can intervene to help.
Henry Ford Health System recognized these barriers for working caregivers—particularly front-line workers—and established the award-winning C.A.R.E program that offers all employees access to resources that help paid and unpaid caregivers. Resources are available for mental and behavioral health, family challenges, financial pressures and more.
With COVID-19's impact on the workforce, we believe that programs like these need to scale and expand. We gave our employees the opportunity to take ARCHANGELS' Caregiver Intensity Index and found that nearly 1 in 3 (31%) scored "in the red," or with "high intensity." ARCHANGELS data also showed that offering supportive programs that focus on the health and well-being of the caregiver is an essential tool in the fight against burnout. If more programs were in place for employees to assess their level of caregiver intensity and easily access user-friendly support, perhaps more working healthcare staff field could meet their own mental-health needs while supporting their loved ones, co-workers and patients.
With the rise of omicron and startling labor shortages, now is the time for employers to step up and do more to support unpaid caregivers, especially double-duty caregivers like those working in healthcare. If more resources are available that recognize the intensity and complexity of employees—who in many cases are working caregivers—we have a shot at improving work-life balance and helping individuals comfortably remain at their jobs at a time when they are needed the most.