What It Means To Be a Caregiver
At UKG, our purpose is people. Nowhere does having a deep understanding of people and their needs more important as when employees – or U Krewers, as we refer to ourselves – are dealing with family issues that can impact their own physical and mental health as well as their ability to perform on the job.
That’s why during 2022 and 2023, UKG expanded its Employee Resource Group (ERG) program to address two specific work-life needs:
- NEST (Nurture, Empower, Support, Thrive) is an ERG to help U Krewers maintain a healthy work life balance while caretaking; whether it’s starting a family, raising children (at any stage of development), or caring for adults or the elderly.
- CARES is an ERG that supports U Krewers and their families going through their own journey with cancer and it recently expanded to Alzheimer's/dementia and other chronic illness.
The formation of these two ERGs was the result of a recent global survey of UKG employees, where 75% of U Krewers said they are caregivers – with 28% reporting they care for both children and elders, and 20% caring for elders.
UKG is not alone in reporting more than a quarter of its workforce in caregiving roles. Several government and corporate-funded studies show similar statistics where caregivers make up at least half of the workforce. Moreover, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “…numerous studies find that flexible workplace policies can enhance employee productivity, reduce absenteeism, reduce costs, and appear to positively affect profits.“
With February 17, 2023, designated as U.S. National Caregivers Day, we’re taking this opportunity to highlight the impact that NEST and CARES have already made to our UKG community through the eyes of two members. It is our hope that their stories inspire you to explore starting a caregiving-focused ERG at your company.
What It Means To Be a Caregiver
Cecily Tyler, Human Insights Lead Program Manager and CARES Member
On February 7, 2022, my mother passed away after losing to her fourth and final bout with cancer. However, for the preceding ten years, my amazing, independent, seemingly invincible Mom had also slowly, and then not so slowly, been succumbing to dementia. Those years had been a journey of grief and of learning about being a caregiver while also being a full-time employee. I believe it’s important to share, because I had the chance to learn how to navigate the various roles of caregiver-employee – a reality affecting many of us today.
When I had the honor of accepting my position at UKG in 2020, my Mom had recently finished treatment for a third bout of breast cancer. She was a survivor through and through! But my siblings and I had also, for a few years at this point, been seeking how to care for Mom as her dementia advanced.
Through cancer and the early onset of dementia, I showed up daily to work, a smile on my face. My boss saw I was tired, but respectfully let me have my privacy. Then, for a period of time, I moved into my mother’s home. One day my colleague and I were speaking via Teams and Mom, a little confused, wandered into my room to let me know how dearly she loved me. She kissed me on my forehead. It was sweet, but not work appropriate, and it was clear that something life altering was going on in my home. My boss reached out, kindly, thoughtfully, and asked if I was OK. After sharing how my mother was struggling, he asked what I needed, if anything, and when I asked for a little flexibility, he assured me we could work it out. I continued to work full weeks but at times during off hours which helped me balance caregiving.
As time went on, I didn’t want Mom to be alone, and she agreed to move to an assisted living community. I was then able to move back to my own home and get the sleep I needed to be a better support to her and my work colleagues.
On December 18, 2021, my siblings and their families gathered at my home for an early, perfect Christmas. A few weeks later, we learned that Mom’s cancer had returned for a fourth time and had metastasized through her bones and liver.
Then, on February 7, 2022, Mom moved on to gentler pastures. Our family had the gift of being together during Mom’s final moments, as the pandemic doors, while still regulated, had begun to open up.
When grief creeps in, it turns us inward. It isolates our hearts. It blankets us, muffling the sounds of joy, imagination, and sometimes our aspirations. It takes time and patience to grieve and release. It is unpredictable, it can take hold – sometimes it exhausts us, overwhelms us. It can make us oddly irritable, deeply distracted, or lethargic. Grief cannot be taken lightly; it demands attention of us at times, sometimes at the most inopportune moments like while pitching a new idea to a boss, or while trying to network with a new customer.
Grief cannot be taken lightly; it demands attention of us at times, sometimes at the most inopportune moments like while pitching a new idea to a boss, or while trying to network with a new customer.
I will be forever grateful to my UKG colleagues for their support while my mother was still with me, allowing me to be the best daughter and caretaker I was able to be, and for the time they provided for me to grieve while I started to learn how to navigate a new reality without my mother. I also have two siblings, who, though out-of-state, helped share the responsibility equally of caring for our mother and for whose support and patience I’m forever grateful.
Here are some things I learned:
Early-stage dementia and the time of “unofficial” caregiving: The World Health Organization explains that the early stage of dementia is often overlooked because the onset is gradual. Informal caregivers (i.e. family members and friends) spend at least 40 hours a week providing care for their loved ones living with dementia. These unexpected hours have “physical, emotional, and financial pressures that can cause great stress to caregivers and all family members.”
Caregivers are the “invisible second patients:” The stress and anxiety caregiving can bring, among other ailments, is well documented. It is why the caregivers are often called the “invisible second patients” of this disease.
The continued struggles of long-term care facilities: One of the realities of the pandemic is the decimation of healthcare staff, particularly in long-term nursing and hospice care facilities. Taking care of Mom while inside a facility became a full-time job.
Best practices for helping employee caregivers: The Harvard Business Review, in a 2018 article, outlines key points for dealing with employees navigating personal crises, including not prying, listening first and asking second, and knowing what assistance can be offered.
When work is a saving grace: My boss explained the Family Medical Leave Act to me, a federal law passed in 1993 specifically to “help employees balance their work responsibilities with family demands.” It’s great to have the option of family leave, but I turned it down because my job was giving me a sense of purpose and comradery outside of my daily concerns and heartache.
Christina Larzabal, Sr. Sales Enablement Specialist and NEST Co-Chair
During the height of the pandemic between March 2020 and 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 10 million U.S. mothers living with school age children left the workforce, mainly due to difficulties finding quality childcare. That’s why ERGs like NEST and CARES are critical to UKG and companies like it because they provide the resources, community, and support caregivers need when they’re balancing homelife and work.
As a new parent at the beginning of the pandemic, there were many times -- and continue to be times -- when I thought it would be much easier to leave the workforce rather than trying to balance being a caregiver and full-time work. What has kept me showing up to work each day is working at UKG with its amazing culture, benefits, flexibility, and resources. Here, I’ve been privileged to have incredible leaders who have supported me through every illness, school closure, and mental health day.
The NEST ERG formed because a chorus of U Krewers voiced a need for more support, insights, and resources for their specific caregiver communities. As a result, currently NEST offers 14 pods (or sub-communities) that share a special interest or connection. Pods include communities like Belly Buddies (pregnancy support), Adoption Circle, Flying Solo, and Care Partners that connect caregivers of adults and the elderly with our CARES ERG.
The NEST ERG formed because a chorus of U Krewers voiced a need for more support, insights, and resources for their specific caregiver communities.
Pods are essential to understanding the unique needs of our sub-communities and how to be advocates for them within our organization. In addition to advocacy and targeted resources, pods may provide monthly support groups, virtual or in-person meet ups, and private communication channels.
The overwhelmingly positive response to the launch of NEST has been incredible, with more than 800 U Krewers joining in its first month. This speaks to the long overdue need for this ERG community. As a parent, if I can influence an organization to just do one thing for their parental and caregiver population it would be to give them an ERG community. Through this community, resources and support are possible. This is how we not only retain caregivers, but also attract and engage new members.
Learn more about Employee Resource Groups at UKG.