A growing subset of employees in the workforce is going unnoticed — caregivers and employees with disabilities and special needs. This group of employees is not only growing, but also made up of significant numbers of top-level staff members who are increasingly costly to replace in an organization.

Through Voya’s Voya Cares program — which advocates for and offers educational and planning resources and solutions to help people with disabilities, special needs and caregivers, plan for their futures — we conducted extensive market research to assess the complex realities and needs of caregivers and employees with disabilities to help inform employers on how to best support them.

The results showed that almost half of surveyed employers lacked awareness of the increasing numbers of caregivers and people who have disabilities and special needs in their workplace. One in five American employees is a caregiver, but 44% of all employers are unaware that so many of their employees are caregivers, as the national statistic indicates.

Nevertheless, 80% of employers recognize that their company could be doing more to help caregiving employees. They say the biggest barrier to doing more, however, is making a compelling business case to invest in additional relevant benefits.

Caregiving’s Toll: Both Employees and Employers Feel the Effect

But why is the number of caregivers in the workforce worth paying attention to?

There’s a significant physical, emotional, and financial impact on caregiving employees and employees with disabilities. Four out of five caregiving employees said that they experienced increased stress or anxiety as a result of their dual roles, and a majority also report using sick, personal leave, or vacation time to provide care. As a result, common issues reported by caregivers include trouble sleeping, depression and anxiety.

In addition, compared to the general population of employees, caregivers and employees with disabilities and special needs are in a more uncertain financial situation. More than half of caregivers and employees with disabilities surveyed are concerned that the money they have or the money they will save won’t last.

Employers cannot afford to ignore the needs of caregivers and employees with disabilities. The minutes, hours and days of productivity that are lost because of stress, reduced concentration, doctors’ appointments and more can add up very quickly over time. Consider the following:

  • Employee replacement cost–It is costly for employers to replace employees, and caregivers can feel like they do not have a choice but to leave a position, if they do not feel like they have the support or flexibility they need to juggle caregiving and work.
  • Productivity loss–It is common for caregivers to need to take time off to provide care, and 1 in 5 caregivers have quit work entirely due to caregiving demands and feeling like they cannot satisfy the demands of both roles.
  • Time spent on caregiving–Caregiving is time intensive and often cannot wait until the evening or weekends. Taking a child to a doctor’s or therapy appointment, calling insurance companies or local community services, dealing with the unexpected – it all takes time and energy that can sap productivity.

Note that none of these points suggest employing caregivers and people with disabilities has a negative effect on a company. In fact, recent research has shown that a majority of employee caregivers are senior level and likely some of the highest-performing talent in an organization.

However, there is a “caregiving crisis” in the workplace, and employers are increasingly realizing they have a role to play in solving it.

Strong benefits packages appeal to all workers, and they appeal as much — if not more — to employee caregivers and employees with disabilities.

When asked to rate which benefits are most important to them, all employees list three typical top choices: medical insurance, retirement plan and Paid Time Off (PTO). In addition to the benefits that are typically top choices, there are benefits and resources that especially appeal to caregivers and employees with disabilities and special needs. These benefits include:

  1. Legal Benefits: More than half of employees with disabilities and special needs and caregivers rate this as an important benefit, as they may have additional considerations that drive demand for legal services.
  2. Health Saving Accounts (HSA) and Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA): All employees, especially individuals with disabilities and special needs and caregivers, value tax-advantaged benefits that help them save for current and future expenses.
  3. Disability and Long-Term Care Insurance: A large majority of caregivers and individuals with disabilities rate disability insurance and long-term care insurance as important benefits.
  4. Paid Family or Elder Care Leave: Caregivers and employees with disabilities understandably recognize the importance of specific paid leave for caregiving.
  5. Assistance Finding Providers and Resources: Offering a benefit that helps caregivers find service providers and resources in their area can help relieve the stress and time demands that may otherwise detract from productivity.
  6. Online Resource Centers: Caregivers and employees with disabilities also indicated that they value digital tools to help manage caregiving, organize documents and find information to assist in special needs planning.

This information intends to raise awareness among employers of the prevalence of caregivers and people with disabilities and special needs in the workplace, foster understanding of their unique circumstances, and suggest actions – actions that are valued by all employees – that companies can take in order to avoid the high cost of employee turnover.

See For the Benefit of All: How Organizations Win When They Recognize and Support Caregivers and Employees with Disabilities for five specific recommendations to help employers address the needs of caregivers and employees with disabilities.

See Infographics: Caregivers in the workplace, Employers make a difference (Download PDF) For a quick look at the Voya Cares market research that assesses the complex realities and needs of caregivers in the workplace to help inform employers on the effects and how to best support them.

See the Voya Cares Checklist for Employers (Download PDF). From inclusive hiring practices, to communication, to employee benefits, this checklist can be a guide to see where your company is today, and where you might be able to improve.