A person having a conversation with a person in a wheelchair at the park

How to Make Caring For Caregivers The New Normal

A Guide for Organizations

Table of Contents

Caring About Caregivers

The Many Ways of Providing Care

Supporting Caregivers in the Workplace

Culture

Family Inclusive Language  

Challenging Gender Stereotypes

Challenging Racialized Stereotypes

Supportive Culture

Support in Times of Crisis

Cultural Awareness

Benefits

Childcare Benefits

Benefits for People of Advanced Age

Mental Health Resources        

Extended Medical Benefits with Caregivers in Mind

Top Ups

Parental Leave Top Ups

Caregiving Leave Top Ups

Organizational Policies

 
Flexible Scheduling

Review, Revise, and Add Leave Policies

Job Related

Job Security and Advancement

Care-Centred Professional Development

Additional Support

Material Supports

Thoughtful Pregnancy and Caregiving Communications

 

Introduction

The pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. But, perhaps primarily, it has forced many organizations to reevaluate their current understandings of caregiving and how they can better support team members who are caregivers.

This resource carefully examines who a caregiver is and what caregiving means to different people so organizations can offer more fulsome policies, processes, and programs for caregiving that go beyond existing or traditional understandings.

Indeed, as work and home lives continue to confront each other, how organizations respond to the diversity of care experiences will dictate their organization’s success. This resource encourages organizations to be as inclusive, intentional, and exceptional as they can for caregivers. 

Caring About Caregivers

A study by McKinsey & Company indicates that 1 in 4 women considered leaving their job in the public sphere during the pandemic or downshifting their careers, compared to 1 in 5 men. These numbers are higher for working mothers, women in senior management positions, and Black women. In the United States (U.S.), it is estimated that 3 million women left their job due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Gender norms that establish women as responsible for domestic labour are one reason many women leave their jobs in the public sphere. Childcare facilities closing, the need to shelter-in-place, and increased household duties have created more responsibilities that society expects women to take on. Health and safety concerns have also driven women out of their jobs, particularly those in lower-wage and frontline work. 

The studies we often reference centre on traditional understandings of caregiving grounded in heterosexual, often heteronormative, nuclear family models. Moving beyond conventional understandings of caregiving means supporting women as mothers while recognizing that caregivers are also daughters and sons, men and fathers, aunts and uncles, siblings and niblings, people who are gender non-conforming or non-binary, partners, spouses, and family (chosen and otherwise). 

Caregiving is time-consuming and physically and emotionally taxing, no matter who you are, but it becomes even more difficult when this labour goes unrecognized and unsupported. If we want caregiving to be shared equitably within communities and free from added work-related stress, we need to open our minds to all of the ways one can be a caregiver and build support for these team members into our organizational policies, processes, and programs. In other words, we believe an intersectional approach to understanding, supporting, and facilitating care at work should preface caregivers’ return to the working world. 

Resources

The Many Ways of Providing Care 

As a starting point, organizations need to understand the many ways that people provide care. Here are some examples:

  • Any family member
  • Aging parents
  • Aging parents and kids (engage with the “many Canadians caring for ageing parents and young children: poll” for information on the “sandwich generation”) 
  • Partners (adults) with disability and/or accessibility needs
  • Children (Adult children; Children with complex needs; Children as a co-parent or single parent)
  • People in their community - neighbours, community members, fellow caregivers, chosen family, etc. 
  • Pets (There has been an 18% increase in pet adoption in Canada during the pandemic—50% of the population now has a pet!) 

It is also essential to include and recognize people who are in the process of becoming caregivers or participating in someone’s caregiving journey. For example, this may include a gestational surrogate. This grey area of caregiving often creates gaps in caregiving-related policies. Consider expanding the understanding of caregivers to include a full spectrum of care experiences, including: 

  • People building families through surrogacy or adoption
  • People in the process of becoming primary caregivers for aging parents or other family members
  • People undergoing fertility treatments 
  • Pregnant people

Finally, remember that people provide different types of care, such as financial, emotional, or physical. They might provide one or all three! Each type of care will require specific workplace supports. 

Supporting Caregivers in the Workplace

Once we have a sense of the many ways team members can be caregivers, we can then reflect on the best ways to support them. Here are some suggestions for designing caregiving-related policies, processes, or programs. 

Culture

Family Inclusive Language

Using inclusive language and considering various caregiving duties when designing any policy, process, or program is essential. In general, we opt for a "both...and" approach. For example, ”wife, husband, and spouse, partner, or significant other” acknowledge all individuals across the gender spectrum. This also extends to pronouns. When using pronouns, consider always using all three - “he, she, and they.” If this gets too cumbersome, exclusively use “they, them.” Consider the following guide to gender-inclusive language for family members:

  • Aunt/Uncle → Piblings
  • Boyfriend/Girlfriend → Partner/Significant Other
  • Brother/Sister → Sibling
  • Grandpa/Grandma → Grandparent
  • Mom/Dad → Parent
  • Niece/Nephew → Niblings
  • Son/Daughter→ Children
  • Wife/Husband → Spouse/Partner/Significant Other

Including an expansive definition of family is essential. Family structures beyond the nuclear family are ordinary; we mustn’t erase these experiences and identities. Unfortunately, many caregiving efforts only include definitions of family that fit within the nuclear model. It is essential to acknowledge that the nuclear family model is rooted in colonialism, and rejecting it is part of decolonial work. Therefore, when designing anything related to caregiving, be specific about the definition of family to include:

  • Aunts, piblings, uncles 
  • Anyone related by blood
  • Children (Adoptive; Biological; Children of a domestic partner; Children-in-law; Foster children; Legal wards; Step-children)
  • Chosen family (Anyone—close friends, loved ones—whose close association is the equivalent of a family and who hold a family-level significance)
  • Couples/partners of different genders, non-binary genders, and the same gender
  • Cousins
  • Grandparents, grandchildren
  • Nephews, niblings, nieces
  • Parents (Adoptive; Biological; Divorced/separated co-parents; Foster; Parents-in-law; People standing in loco parenti; Platonic co-parents; Step-parents
  • Polyamorous or non-monogamous couples/relationships
  • Siblings (Biological; Foster-siblings; Siblings-in-law; Step-siblings)
  • Spouses, domestic partners, any equivalent union in a given jurisdiction of different genders, the same gender, and non-binary partners.

Note: We organized the lists above alphabetically to avoid reinforcing a familial relations hierarchy. When creating lists of identities, our instinct is first to list dominant identities, which can reinforce particular identities as the most important or valued. 

Two men hanging out at home on the living room floor. One is using his laptop, the other is playing with a baby.

Resources

Challenging Gender Stereotypes 

To make inclusive caregiving a reality, we suggest challenging dominant notions of gender in any policy, process, or program. Since gender is such a pervasive belief within Western society and culture, challenging it takes intention. Too often, we assume that care and domestic work are the responsibility of women and girls and forego structures that share such work equitably. Thoughtful caregiving efforts acknowledge that gendered norms operate in our everyday lives at home and work and affect many team members. Challenging gender stereotypes also means not assuming someone’s caregiver status and dispelling the  “mommy-track myth,” which assumes that women with children are less productive.

A racialized individual talking on the phone and holding a toddler

Resources

Challenging Racialized Stereotypes

Inclusive caregiving also means challenging racialized stereotypes. For example, Black families are often pathologized and represented as “broken.” Indigenous, racialized, and LGBTQIA2+ families are also pathologized. We sometimes call this the “single parent/caregiver” trope, suggesting that families outside the normative “nuclear” family structure harm children. When, in fact, parents may have consciously uncoupled in a fully informed manner or simply follow non-normative kinship models. Families also sometimes do not marry or live together for different cultural or financial reasons. 

The narrative and myth that the nuclear family structure is better or “healthier” is pervasive in our society and works to oppress anyone who does not follow this model actively. However, some studies suggest children of parents who do not live together are not worse off than those who live together. If managers and team members hold these harmful beliefs, they may treat their fellow team members differently concerning caregiving support. For example, a manager might deny a leave request or fellow team members may be less understanding about flexibility. It’s always a good idea to be aware of harmful biases and stereotypes that discriminate against non-normative families when designing anything related to childcare.

Resources

Supportive Culture

A supportive culture means an openness and willingness to work with caregivers to offer them support where and when they need it. You may foster this through manager and supervisor check-ins, return to work buddy support systems, and implementing a caregiver employee resource group (ERG). Human Resources (HR) or People & Culture (P&C) can also collect data on caregiver experience. Mobilizing data and feedback mechanisms can support the development of any policy, process, or program related to caregiving. 

Another important aspect will be managing fellow team members' expectations of caregiver needs. This could mean developing educational materials and programs that help team members act and behave inclusively toward caregivers and avoid perpetuating harmful myths about team members who need time off or are unavailable because of caregiving responsibilities. For caregivers who may have been on leave for an extended period (more than two years), consider offering more structured re-training as part of their return-to-work plan.  

A racialized couple smiling as their toddler plays on a laptop

A supportive culture can also resemble a psychologically safer culture where caregivers can share their experiences, ideas, opinions, and beliefs around organizational policies without fear of reprisals, intimidation, and shame. This could mean an open dialogue about caregiver experience and options for feedback (either anonymous or otherwise).

Resources

Support in Times of Crisis

Caregiving can be difficult at the best of times. When we add significant social and political moments of crisis, caregiving can become even more emotionally and physically taxing. For example, witnessing extreme violence against your community or identity group at either your local or global level causes severe distress in caregivers. This makes the daily tasks and requirements of caregiving more challenging to manage. For example, the recent acts of gun violence against school-age children in the U.S. have caused fear and anxiety for many parents and caregivers of children. This fear can affect how they go about their daily activities, including work. 

Support for caregivers in times of crisis is often the most successful when backed up by an organizational culture that is already supportive. This can mean flexible schedules, psychological safety where team members can share that they may need to push back deadlines or take a half day, or even publishing organizational statements and commitments of support for the communities affected by the tragedy or crisis. 

Resources

Cultural Awareness

It is essential to recognize the cultural diversity that exists within families. Caregivers can hold different cultural beliefs and have different needs concerning caregiving. Therefore, we suggest you encourage team members to practice caregiving cultural awareness and inclusion when developing any policy, process, or program. For example, consider offering mental health benefits to caregivers representing a culturally diverse group of mental health professionals. This can also mean offering benefits to extended family for those team members who care for people outside of the nuclear family.

One way to support this awareness is by including culturally diverse team members in any policy, process, or program development process. This can also mean crafting your hiring and recruitment policies to include cultural awareness training for any hiring personnel. For example, if a potential candidate shares they are a single-parent, hiring managers know how to think critically about the harmful basis they may hold around single-parenting and how it intersects with race, ethnicity, gender, disability, etc. 

Resources

Benefits

Child Care Benefits 

While the pandemic may have revealed the depth of our society’s care deficit across the board, the childcare crisis, in particular, predates 2020. A combination of childcare deserts, the high cost of care, and the lack of quality child care contribute to massive barriers for all parents. Moreover, parents of children with disabilities and/or severe allergies can face additional access barriers to daycare because their children may require specialized care or allergy-safe environments, all of which come at a financial premium and are in short supply. 

While the cost of daycare varies globally, the monthly cost of daycare in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is $1800/month. However, the province of Ontario is working to decrease this number as part of the federally backed $10-a-day childcare deal. Yet even in regions where local governments heavily subsidize licensed childcare, many parents and caregivers pay hefty fees because the demand for licensed spaces outstrips the supply. Waiting lists for a licensed childcare space can be years. In the meantime, parents pay a premium for unlicensed care. In response, some companies have started offering daycare benefits and benefits for care for people of advanced age or on-site childcare as part of their wellness benefits packages to help offset the financial strain associated with care.

Resources

Benefits for People of Advanced Age 

Organizations might also consider how care benefits and policies include care for people of advanced age. During the pandemic, many families chose to move family members of advanced age into their homes rather than have them stay in nursing or retirement residences. This contributed to a dramatic shift in how, where, and who is caring for aging loved ones. We encourage organizations to continue to work with their team members to understand and support their changing caregiving needs by offering benefits for people of advanced age, like in-home care options or a home accessibility budget. A home accessibility budget could include benefits for in-home renovations to support accessibility needs.

a masculine presenting person checking the temperature of a racialized person of advanced age laying on bed

Resources

Mental Health Benefits 

Access to robust mental health benefits is critical for all team members. We know that the pandemic has exacerbated mental health challenges, and caregivers are no exception. Before the pandemic, about 1 in 7 birthing people would experience postpartum depression or anxiety. Unfortunately, this number has risen to 1 in 3. Therefore, a full suite of mental health benefits is a key to supporting caregivers before, during, and after they return to work.

Resources 

Extended Medical Benefits with Caregivers in Mind

Caregiving can be physically taxing. Recovering from care-related injuries, pumping and/or breast/chestfeeding, and sleep deprivation can add challenges for people returning to work. Consider including access to physiotherapy (such as pelvic floor physiotherapy), registered lactation specialists, birth and death doulas, and infant sleep experts in wellness and medical benefits.

A woman asleep in bed with her baby on her chest

Top Ups

Parental Leave Top Ups 

Although Canada's government offers employment insurance (EI) during maternity and parental leave as either a standard or extended option (12 and 18 months, respectively), the dollar amount is prohibitively low, amounting to the average rent for a one-bedroom in Toronto. This means that for most people, parental leave is not financially viable. In Quebec, the government offers parents various parental leave benefits ranging from 55-70% of their pay (with no dollar maximums). Although this is considerably better, there is still room for discrimination and plenty of opportunities for employers to offer top-ups to cover the difference in pay. 

Organizations that offer parental leave top-up have much higher morale, retention, and productivity within their teams. However, more than the “business case” for top-ups is the social justice case, as top-ups are a tool for advancing gender equality. This can also mean that while continuing to be a leader in parental leave top-up benefits, the organization can get involved in movements that fight for more governmental support for parental and pregnancy leave.

Globally, only 36 countries offer government-mandated paid parental leave, which is available to both parents. More than 120 countries provide some form of paid maternity/pregnancy leave. Still, this type of leave is typically only available to the pregnant person before and/or immediately following the birth or, in some cases, adoption. Currently, the U.S. does not offer any form of government-protected paid family leave; federal law guarantees new parents just six weeks of unpaid leave, and some workers do not qualify. 

Caregiving Leave Top Ups 

In addition to maternity and parental leave, the Canadian Government also offers EI benefits for family caregivers who cannot work because they are caring for a critically ill or injured adult or child. They also offer compassionate care benefits for caregivers providing end-of-life care. Like maternity and parental leave benefits, caregivers are only entitled to 55% of their earnings up to a maximum of $638/week. After taxes and deductions, the maximum allowable amount for caregiver benefits is about $2,100/month. For context, in March of 2022, an average one-bedroom rental in Toronto costed $2,044/month. Offering a caregiving leave top-up is an inclusive way to support caregivers beyond parental leave. Although few organizations currently provide a caregiver leave top-up, we encourage organizations who have the means to offer it to do so. 

Resources

Organizational Policies

Flexible Scheduling 

Caregiving can sometimes be an unpredictable job. Offering flexible work hours can allow caregivers to figure out a schedule that works for them. At the same time, other caregivers may benefit from a predictable schedule (with flex time) to stay organized and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Understanding rescheduling, being more task-oriented, adjusting performance review criteria, and reconsidering policies that reward in-office work can help shift away from the traditional 9-5 and allow caregivers to work in a way that best suits them. Flexible scheduling also means offering options for when and how people return to work—for example, part-time to start, job sharing, compressed work weeks, or work from home hybrid options. For non-office workers, this means direct communication about what shifts might work best for them and where flexibility is possible. 

Review, Revise, and Add Leave Policies

Policies that affect caregivers can range from a parental and pregnancy leave policy, sick leave policy, medical leave policy, bereavement leave policy, holiday or time off policy, and even an absentee policy. Often, these policies indirectly punish or discriminate against caregivers. Therefore, it is a good idea to review these policies and ask how they might indirectly affect a team member who is a caregiver. We suggest expanding definitions of a family to consider who may be impacted by these policies. Including a discretionary leave allotment into these policies is another excellent option. It gives team members the power to take time off without restriction in ways that work best for themselves and their families.

Job-Related

Job Security and Advancement

Access to extended paid caregiving leave, like parental leave, is necessary but can also contribute to widening promotional and pay gaps for caregivers, especially women. While on leave, make caregivers aware of upcoming promotional and advancement opportunities. Moreover, give them a choice as to what level of communication they are comfortable with while on leave. A clear communication plan is a great tool to have in place to support a caregiver who is on leave. 

If your team works in-office or in a hybrid model, be aware of proximity bias as team members compete for promotions, as caregivers are more likely to choose remote work. Create a robust set of guidelines for hiring and promoting team members that work to avoid proximity bias and reproducing harmful stereotypes around caregiving and caregivers. 

Care-Centred Professional Development

Caregiving requires enormous mental, emotional, physical, and financial resources, making participating in traditional professional development opportunities challenging. Therefore, a thoughtful return to work policy, for example, might be future-oriented and consider how caregivers can continue to develop professionally at work. This means:

  • Providing compensation for care when professional development takes place outside of regular hours or requires travel.
  • Offering virtual or learn-at-your-own pace opportunities.
  • And ensuring professional development is explicitly aligned with the team member’s career goals. 

Additional Support

Material Supports

When at work, caregivers may need any number of material supports, from private phone lines, private rooms for pumping, chest/breastfeeding, and/or taking personal calls, daycare/care for people of advanced age, and access to nourishing meals. This can also include connecting caregiving team members with organizations or financial support outside the office that might offer them support. Another option for this is on-site childcare or a pet-friendly office.

Thoughtful Pregnancy and Caregiving Communications

It is often considered “normal” to celebrate family formations by collecting gifts and offering congratulations to new parents. In addition, organizations often share organization-wide birth and/or adoption announcements by leadership and/or collect gifts from fellow team members. While there is nothing wrong with celebrating these significant changes in your team members’ lives, adding a content warning (CW) to organization-wide birth announcements and calls for gifts is considerate of people who have suffered a miscarriage, infant loss, and infertility. 

It is also wise to include organization-wide announcements that acknowledge life milestones outside the normative frame, which often follows the marriage-pregnancy path. For example, gender-affirming surgery, adoption, sobriety, getting a new pet, or graduate school completion, to name a few, are rarely shared in workplaces as life milestones. Moreover, it’s important to consider that not everyone wants their life milestones shared at work. Keeping track of what milestones are important to everyone and who wants recognition is vital to ensuring we treat all team members respectfully. You may accomplish this through an organization-wide portal where team members can share what life events they want to be made public with their corresponding dates and details. 

Finally, ensure that you treat all life events equally. This means the announcements (in frequency and type), gifts, events, and communications are the same regardless of the milestone. 

 

Conclusion: Towards Care-Centred Work and Teams

This resource has provided suggestions and tips to help organizations draft a care-centred culture. Moving beyond traditional understandings of caregiving means moving towards care-centred approaches to work and teams. Once we adopt a more expansive understanding of caregiving, we can better ensure that our policies, processes, and programs value, support, and normalize all types of caregivers. The labour of caregiving is vital, taxing, and different for everyone. It is labour worthy of our consideration and support, and we urge everyone to reflect this in their workplaces.

This resource reflects a particular moment in time, North America in 2022, and like most things in life, will eventually need updates. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, and languages. As such, this resource is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date.

Please feel free to reach out to us at hello@feminuity.org if you have any thoughts, questions, or comments.

About the Authors

Yvonne James, PhD, MA, BA

Research Consultant

(She, Her)

Eleni Marino, PhD (Can), MA, MA, BS

Consultant & Facilitator

(She, Her)

If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation:
Feminuity. James, Y. and Marino, E. (2022). "How to Make Caring For Caregivers The New Normal: A Guide for Organizations"

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