We are all caregivers: An expanding definition and perspective

 

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s a good time to reflect on what – and who – makes us grateful. For some, it’s their caregivers – not just those in paid positions but their family and friends who help them with their daily activities and medical needs.

I think it’s fitting that the month of November is also National Caregiver’s Month. It’s something I think we can all relate to, whether we’ve received special care, witnessed an amazing caregiver help someone we love, or been a caregiver ourselves. The “face” of a caregiver is diverse. It’s not just the individual who takes care of an elderly, frail parent or grandparent. It’s the spouse who cares for his wife living with multiple sclerosis. It’s the neighbor who checks on a disabled vet. It’s a middle-aged parent caring for her 20-year-old child addicted to opioids.

But how often do we think of caregiving in the workplace?

At Humana, it may be easier to make that leap: Obviously, we are in the health care industry, and our focus is on finding ways to improve people’s lives by improving their health and well-being. Our internal culture supports this, and we vigilantly try to live our company values, which not only build a foundation for providing this care to those outside of our company but also within our company. I’ve always loved our name – HUMANA – with “human” at its root. It’s part of our identity – caregiving – and if we don’t take care of each other on the job each day, how can we be well, heartfelt and equipped to care for our members?

This means thinking of caregiving in a new light – one in which companies embrace the responsibility and opportunity to take care of their employees in a variety of ways, and one in which employees commit to taking care of each other so we can think, feel and do our best in both our personal and professional lives. They are interdependent.

I would challenge you as employers, as leaders, and as employees to keep this in mind when you come to work each day, when you shape policies and processes, and when you interact with your colleagues – your very human counterparts. In addition to asking about analytics reporting and sales figures, don’t forget to ask each other: How are you doing? What’s on your mind? Is something troubling you? Is there anything I can do to help? Just like you, your teammates require nurturing, guidance and friendship. In the end, it’s about people-focused awareness, proactive outreach, empathy and kindness.

The other thought that’s been floating around in my head is this: How can we do more — do better — in taking care of caregivers?

Here, I’m mostly referring to the more traditional family/friend caregiver role. How can we make changes that will have a true impact on the caregiver’s well-being?

Caregiving can take an immense toll on those who find themselves in that role – physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially. I can speak with some degree of authority, as I was a loving caregiver to my late wife, who suffered from and eventually succumbed to Hodgkin’s disease when we were in our early 30s. While caregiving can be a highly personal privilege, it can also wreak havoc on every aspect of one’s life, including relationships, work and other competing responsibilities. The role often requires countless hours of time and energy and a persistent strength to get through challenging times, all while trying to show a brave face and energetic spirit to those who require the care. After all, we tell ourselves, “they” have enough to deal with – ailing, recuperating or living through daily hardships from illness or injury. We must not add to the burden.

The challenge is growing, because the caregiver population is increasing each year. Current statistics indicate that we have more than 43 million unpaid caregivers in the United States. And the needs are becoming more complex; for example, the number of people with dementia is expected to triple by 2060.

At Humana, we’ve seen the trend, and we’re trying to help.

Internally, we allow two weeks of annual paid caregiver leave for our employees who need it, and we have an employee-led Caregiver Network Resource Group. We are also exploring ways to help our members and their caregivers and intend to offer new supplemental respite care benefits in some plans in select markets in 2019. We are proud to offer such resources and benefits to caregivers, and we will continue to search for new ways of helping this expanding group.

This month in particular, I encourage you to expand your definition and thinking around caregivers. Think of yourself as a caregiver in your workplace, even if you are not one in your home. And please do your part in lifting the awareness about caregivers – their many faces and their many needs – so we can all work together to grow a strong support system to take care of those in need. After all, we are all humans who need care … and we are all caregivers.

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