Report from the Employer Panel for Caregivers

Official title: When Work and Caregiving Collide: How Employers Can Support Their Employees Who Are Caregivers

Scope of this report

Many Canadians are juggling the demands of full or part-time employment with the need to provide regular informal care to family and friends. Caregiving can affect the well-being of employee caregivers, and lead to increased costs for their employers by impacting job performance, absenteeism and productivity.

Following Budget 2014, the Government of Canada launched the Canadian Employers for Caregivers Plan (CECP) to explore ways to help employee caregivers participate as fully as possible in the workforce. The CECP is one of a range of activities that the Government of Canada and others are currently undertaking to support caregivers. These include tax measures, income replacement through employment insurance, and the provision of targeted programs for caregivers in populations under federal jurisdiction.

The CECP has three distinct elements:

  1. establishing a panel to consult with employers on workplace practices that support caregivers;
  2. analyzing the cost-benefit of workplace practices and supplying business case information; and
  3. exploring mechanisms for sustained employer engagement in this area.

In June 2014, the first element of the plan, the Employer Panel for Caregivers, was established by the Honourable Alice Wong, Minister of State for Seniors. The Panel was mandated to engage with employers, to identify their best practices for supporting employee caregivers, and share these findings with other Canadian businesses and stakeholders. Enhancements to government programs or legislative changes were outside the mandate of the Panel.

To inform the Government's future CECP initiatives, the Panel consulted with employers to explore whether they are using a business case to justify their investments in supporting employee caregivers. The Panel also sought to identify the level of interest in a forum for employers on the subject of caregivers in the workplace.

This report presents findings and insights from the Panel's consultations on workplace practices for assisting employee caregivers, and provides recommendations for Canadian businesses interested in becoming more supportive of their employees who are caregivers.

Letter from the Panel

In all aspects of society, normalizing what has become a reality is often a case of playing catch up. Only a few years ago, it may have been considered career-limiting for a parent to leave at a set time to collect a child from daycare. Today, most workplaces accept and support this situation without question. It's now time to recognize that for many people, the responsibilities of working and providing unpaid care to a family member or friend are colliding. To stay healthy and productive, these employees need employer support.

More than six million people – 35% of our workforce – provide unpaid, informal care while balancing job responsibilities. Most employed caregivers spend nine hours or less per week caring, but many (24%) are spending up to 30 hours – and some even more. The recipients of care are primarily seniors, and most caregivers are 45 and older, often talented and experienced employees possessing deep company or industry knowledge. These are key contributors to an organization and to the Canadian economy broadly - people we don't want to see exit the workforce.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates the annual cost of lost productivity to be $1.3 billion dollars to Canadian employers. Costs to the caregivers in terms of stress and career advancement can also be significant, particularly for women at critical points in their careers.

How aware are Canadian employers of this reality, and how can they mitigate the impact for their employees and their organizations? The companies we consulted – ranging from large multinational to small owner-managed businesses – were generally surprised that caregiving was so pervasive. Yet they knew it was happening and were actively making provisions, driven by a desire to "do the right thing" for their employees.

We were impressed with the commitment, flexibility and creativity many employers are using to address a wide range of caregiving circumstances. It was widely agreed that solutions are available, and that regulatory intervention would be inefficient. In this report, we present our observations and conclude that the unique circumstances of each caregiving situation rule out a one-size-fits-all approach. What is clear is that more resources and guidance can make a significant difference to the caregiving employee and to their productivity in the workplace.

We would like to thank the representatives of the organizations who generously provided their time to consult on this subject. By sharing their experiences and perspectives, they have contributed to a greater understanding of how Canadian employers can better enable workplace participation of people with caregiving responsibilities. We would also like to recognize the leadership of the Honourable Alice Wong, Minister of State for Seniors and the Government of Canada for establishing the Panel.

Caregiving is an issue that will affect most Canadians at some point in their lives. As our population ages and labour force growth declines, the need to support employees with caregiving responsibilities will grow. It is our hope that this report will be a useful resource to enable and encourage employers to take action.

Executive summary

In the Employer Panel for Caregivers consultations, we heard from 114 employers representing most regions of Canada. These employers participated on a voluntary basis following an outreach effort through existing networks and human resources (HR) associations. Eighteen industry sectors were represented, and responses were well distributed across large, medium and small organizations. Members of the management or HR teams of 45 of the organizations participated in regional roundtables or bilateral discussions, while 69 organizations submitted their input via an online questionnaire.

This report, intended to be a tool for Canadian employers and other interested stakeholders, summarizes what the organizations told us and the insights we gained from our consultations.

  • Employers are generally aware of the trend towards informal care, but not the magnitude. While many felt that caregiving would be an area of focus in the coming decades, they were surprised and concerned that it already affects 35% of the Canadian workforce. They see the need for a thoughtful and focussed approach to the issue within their organizations.
  • Most employers addressed the needs of employee caregivers on a case-by-case basis; often using flexible hours and technology. No organizations reported having specific policies or programs in place to support employee caregivers. Many formal employer-led programs and practices exist to support flexibility; these are often "loosened" to apply to broader caregiving needs.
  • Barriers to providing support include lack of awareness, the nature of the job and leadership support. Many organizations are not aware that caregiving is an issue affecting their workforce, often because employees do not self-identify as caregivers. Across companies of all size, barriers are often related to the employee's role in the organization and the nature of work in particular industries. The visible commitment of leadership is critical, as is manager training to create a supportive environment and respond to sensitive situations.
  • While employers clearly expressed that this is "the right thing to do," they would like to better understand the business case of supporting employed caregivers in the workplace. Many participants felt that employee engagement and greater retention provide sufficient proof of the value of providing support. However, it was agreed that business case information would help to sell the concept of caregiver support to senior leadership, and provide a framework for evaluating the level of involvement.
  • There is significant appetite for knowledge and tools to increase understanding of caregiver needs and develop tailored solutions. Employers seek user-friendly information and broad policies that they can adapt to their own needs rather than restrictive, one-size-fits-all legislation. An employer toolkit – such as the Resource Toolbox provided at the end of this report – would help organizations of various sizes, sectors and locations access resources including workplace practices, domestic and international websites, case studies, programs, services, and training information.

The risk to Canadian employers

More than one-third of the Canadian workforce is providing informal care to a family member or friend. Many caregivers do not self-identify as such, but view themselves as supportive individuals, suggesting that the number may be understated. The accompanying stress can significantly impact their work, resulting in lower productivity and increased absenteeism. With Canada's population continuing to age, these pressures and related consequences will increase, as will the magnitude of impact on Canadian employers.

Informal caregiving refers to those aged 15 or older who provide unpaid care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, a physical or mental disability, or problems related to aging according to the 2012 General Social Survey (GSS).Footnote 1 It does not include child care, parenting, or care for minor short-term illnesses such as colds or flus. The survey reported that in 2012, 8.1 million or 28% of Canadians were providing such care. Of this group, three-quarters (6.1 million) were in the workforce, representing 35% of employed Canadians.

Informal caregiving

35% of employed Canadians are also providing informal care to a family member or friend.[a.]

$1.3 billion is lost in workforce productivity due to caregiving commitments.[b.]

The number of seniors requiring care is projected to double between 2012 and 2031.[a.]

  1. GSS, 2012
  2. Conference Board of Canada, 2012

Employee caregivers experience more interruptions at work, lower productivity, and are frequently late or absent.Footnote 2 They may be less able to work overtime, travel for work, or take advantage of career-advancing opportunities such as professional development. The 2012 GSS reported that 1.6 million caregivers took leave from work; nearly 600,000 reduced their work hours; 160,000 turned down paid employment; and 390,000 had quit their jobs to provide care.

The majority (74%) of caregivers provide nine or less hours of care per week. However, 16% provided 10-29 hours of care, while 10% provided a very intensive level of 30 hours or more. Not surprisingly, the more care a person provides, the greater impact it has on their ability to work. The survey showed, for example, that 38% of caregivers who provided 20 or more hours of care per week reduced their regular working hours, compared to 25% of those who were providing less than 20 hours. Informal caregivers are also a diverse group. Men were almost as likely as women to be caregivers, but could potentially be less likely to self-identify.

Who are the caregivers?

  • Men are almost as likely as women (46% vs 54%) to be caregivers
  • Women are more likely (65% vs 35%) to provide 20 or more hours of care per week
  • 44% of caregivers are aged 45-64, "sandwiched" between caregiving and childrearing
  • 25-44 year-olds account for 28% of caregivers; 15-24s account for 15%
  • 1 million caregivers were older than 65 themselves – a trend that will increase and likely include more non-retirees

What are they doing?

  • Transportation
  • Household maintenance
  • Day-to-day tasks such as scheduling appointments and managing finances
  • Personal and medical care

The 2012 GSS also noted that caregivers who provide two or more hours of care per week experienced worry or distress as a result of their care responsibilities. Not only do the concurrent demands of work and care impact caregivers, the emotional and psychological stresses can negatively affect their general well-being.

Several studies have highlighted that the intensity of care and the relationship to the care recipient affects the caregiver's emotional and physical well-being. For example, 82% of caregivers who provide care for a child with a disability or serious illness, 74 % who care for a spouse, 60% who care for a parent and 34% who care for a grandparent reported that they experience psychological distress and negative health consequences.Footnote 3 Some of the consequences include depression, increased anger or irritability, unhappiness, and sleep problems.

In addition to the intensity of care and the relationship to the care recipient, the type of caregiving situation can also take a considerable toll on the caregiver's health. According to the World Health Organization, the physical and psychological impact on caregivers providing care to those with a long-term health problem, such as dementia, is significant; up to 75% will experience some type of negative psychological effects and 15-32% will experience depression.

In addition to representing a challenge to the caregivers themselves, these consequences are having an impact on Canadian employers and society more broadly. Estimates place the reduced work effort by caregivers at 2.2 million hours per week in 2012. Factoring in all the associated negative employment consequences, the Canadian economy lost the equivalent of 157,000 full-time employees in 2012 because of caregiving pressures – a significant loss in productive capacity. According to the Conference Board of Canada, Canadian firms have been incurring about $1.3 billion in lost productivity per year as a result of caregivers missing full days or hours of work, or exiting the workplace altogether.Footnote 4

Canada's aging population means that these pressures and their consequences will only increase. By 2031, the number of people over the age of 80 requiring care is projected to double. At the same time, older workers will account for an increasing share of the Canadian workforce.

Challenge #1

Challenge: Accommodating an employee caring for a parent in a different city

Profile: Large company in Atlantic Canada

Solution: We do whatever makes sense. We give permission for a leave of absence, and offer flexible shifts and hours (for example, we can easily transfer employees from night to day shifts). In one case, we transferred the employee to work at an alternate location. We assess each situation on a case-by-case basis. You can't legislate common sense.

We do the "right" thing versus the "popular" thing. Our culture allows us to offer this type of flexibility. The core value of our company is to treat people like family, and not just when it's convenient. Our motto is, if it's the right thing to do, then do it, no matter the cost.

What employers told us

To paraphrase a participant from the financial services sector in central Canada, the population is aging and families have become smaller, with fewer children available to take on informal care. At the same time, individuals are deciding to have kids later in life so they've become a ‘sandwich generation' – caring for children and older people simultaneously. A few participants noted that those faced with the need to provide care in the prime of their careers often risk impacting their advancement, but resolved that this must change – particularly to achieve the goal of retaining women. It's worth noting that this is a pervasive concern: almost half of employee caregivers (47% of women and 45% of men) feel that they cannot use flexible work arrangements without it having a negative impact on their careers.Footnote 5

One hundred and fourteen organizations representing a cross section of Canadian employers (see List of Employers Consulted) participated in our consultation. We provided background information and then asked them about workplace policies, the role of technology, and barriers to overcome. They told us their stories – a few of which are highlighted in this report. The key messages were:

  • be flexible in your approach
  • leverage technology
  • be creative and learn from others
  • remove barriers

When presented with statistics about the number of employed Canadians providing informal care, the organizations which participated were surprised. They knew that caregiving was happening, but not at such a high level.

Employers recognize that combining care with work has major social and economic implications. As people live longer and the age of retirement is delayed, they noted that an increasing proportion of the population will be both employees and caregivers in their prime career years.

Challenge #2

Challenge: Supporting an employee who is caring for a spouse with a long-term health condition

Profile: Large retail employer in central Canada

Solution: We offered the employee one day off a week to provide care; this arrangement continued for several years and was reviewed by management with the employee on a monthly basis. Although we are a large employer, we have a small/mid-sized organizational approach. Once an employee comes forward with a request, a policy is brought up for discussion. The immediate supervisor and middle-manager are the ones who can really create the accommodative work environment for their employees.

Flexibility matters most

Although earning a living while providing care has become a "new normal," most employers we consulted don't have a specific policy in place for supporting the needs of caregivers. Fortunately, these needs are being more widely recognized at a time when companies are reviewing their employee offerings to address a general desire for flexibility. Many are moving away from requiring that benefits be used only in certain situations.

The various options employers cited for supporting caregivers can be grouped broadly into the following categories:

  • paid and unpaid leave
  • flexible workplace arrangements
  • technology
  • employer-led programs

Specific examples of each include top-ups to legislated compassionate leave and extended vacation plans; flexible scheduling and condensed work hours; virtual workspace tools; and emergency elder care. Please refer to the Resource Toolbox: Inventory of Flexible Workplace Practices that Support Employee Caregivers to explore some of the various practices referenced in our consultations.

The employers we consulted understood that caregiving is a nuanced issue; that the intensive, short-term needs of caring for a terminally ill parent contrast greatly with the decades of ongoing care required for a child with a disability. They recognized that different people need different accommodations in different situations.

Employers communicated that flexibility is the key word when it comes to supporting employee caregivers. They provided fulsome evidence of this philosophy, whether by adapting existing programs or creating tailored solutions as needs arose. This was often the case with smaller employers lacking extensive programs and HR departments. A small technology firm from western Canada discussed their practice of working with individuals on a case-by-case basis, reporting that some take paid leave, some reduce their hours, some work from home – and some even work abroad if they need to go overseas to care for family.

Larger organizations, which often have the ability to redistribute workloads, spoke of using their existing workplace programs to accommodate the needs of caregivers. One large company in the transportation sector reported providing leaves of absence, with colleagues assuming the work of employees who are away. This same organization offers flex shifts and hours, and allows employees to choose their start/finish hours or move to part-time. It also provides an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), coaching, and the option to transfer to various locations.

Technology is a great enabler

Regardless of size or sector, it was widely agreed by the companies we consulted that technology can be a great enabler of flexibility. In many cases it was felt that better leveraging existing technology platforms could provide significant flexibility for the employee and the organization. Interestingly, it was not only allowing the employee to work remotely that was valued, but the ability to virtually monitor and communicate with home or the dependent's location.

Although most companies use technology on a regular basis to accommodate employees, including those away due to caregiving needs, there are exceptions. Some organizations mention that company culture does not accept employees working remotely; others note a generational difference in the acceptance of technology. Small companies with limited operating budgets may have less access to technology, and it may be offered at the decision-making/manager level only. It was noted that employees working in many manufacturing, service and retail roles must be there in person. However, some forms of technology can still be used to benefit many of these front-line employees – one example is online scheduling; another is web access to information about available programs and services.

Those in the tech industry are often ahead of the curve in this regard, but an impressive number of firms have adopted technology-based practices. Consider the following examples:

  • A medium-sized organization in the not-for-profit sector reported exclusively using laptops instead of desktops so employees can take them home; using Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phones so any office or home phone can be a work line; and having employees share desktop views and communicate across time zones using video conferencing and instant messaging software. They believe in "working in the cloud" to access information from anywhere. This employer also noted that using technology reduces costs in other situations – not just those related to care – as sometimes people don't want to come to the office to get others sick, but can still work from home.
  • A large public sector organization in Atlantic Canada reported enabling all employees – not just caregivers – to work from a distance by using free virtual discussion software applications on their computers or smart phones, or by remote access to work portals.
  • A mid-sized health sector company in Atlantic Canada ensures that arrangements can be made for office employees to log in from home, using their own computers or work tablets. Calls can also be made or received from home, using company mobile phones when necessary.

Challenge #3

Challenge: Employee's wife had a major accident and needed care

Profile: Small not-for-profit organization in central Canada

Solution: We provided the employee with the time, support and necessary leave over the years to help balance work and caregiving. The employee was very loyal to the organization, so we were open to accommodation. We have clear leadership for a workplace of wellness, and our company has a “family first” mentality. We have fewer desks than people to support a work-from-home culture. It's not about working 9:00 am – 5:00 pm in the office; it's about getting the work done. We offer three floater days that can be used for any reason, and we are working towards an environment where the employees want to tell their employer what is going on.

Creative solutions abound

The panel found ample evidence that many Canadian employers apply ingenuity and innovation when it comes to supporting their employee caregivers. Here are some examples of the more creative practices that emerged during the consultations:

  • Work where you must: Employees can choose the work location that best suits their needs (e.g. be transferred to alternate locations across the country to care for a loved one) or choose to work off-site (e.g. from home). For example, one small, not-for-profit organization in central Canada remodeled its office to communicate the message that "You don't need to be here to get work done." They now have significantly fewer work stations than people. A large insurance company launched a "commute free-day" to allow employees the flexibility to work off-site, and to use their lunch breaks and time saved on commuting for their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Work when you are needed: Several companies offer employees flexibility regarding when they will work including annualized hours where employees can choose their days and hours of work for a set period of time either weekly, monthly or yearly (this may be ideal for employers with peak hours or seasonal peaks); compressed work weeks where employees work for a longer period per day in exchange for a day off; and flexible schedules/hours to provide employees with the choice of start and finish times as long as the total required hours per week are met. For example, a large manufacturing company allowed their employees to choose the hours that work best for them, whether this means starting the workday at 6:00 am or at 12:00 pm. Of note, this company did not have a core set of hours. Another medium technology company allows their employees to work when they want, but established Mondays and Fridays as mandatory days for employees to be in the office for a set period of time. This would allow management to schedule face-to-face team meetings and to ensure maximum participation.
  • Learn what's available: Programs and services include such offerings as an Employee Family Assistance Program (EFAP) that provides employees with referral services, available programs in their communities, and counselling. A large, public sector organization provides its employees with access to such a program, as well as an on-demand video library featuring subject matter experts offering caregiving tips and advice. These wellness tools are actively promoted within the workplace. A large professional services organization offers their employees emergency elder care services, where they provide back-up care when regular care options are not available. Employees valued this service because they would rather balance work and care responsibilities as opposed to dealing with the stresses of missing work.
  • Pick what you need: A number of employers are offering "virtual wallets" – Web-based benefits platforms that connect employees to a menu of services and allow them to manage their own selections. A large company in the financial sector offers their employees easy access to an online platform to get tailored information on the resources and services required for their unique situation, whether they are looking for information on doctors, community services, or existing caregiving networks.
  • Switch gears: Some employers offer part-time schedules to allow their employees who might have intensive care responsibilities the opportunity to continue working. Employees can choose to work fewer hours than a standard work week (e.g. 37.5 or 40 hours). These arrangements can be made on a permanent or temporary basis and can act as a form of "off-ramping," which can also mean taking on a role with fewer responsibilities/less travel as caregiving needs evolve.
  • Share duties/responsibilities: Some employers allow two or more people to share one or more positions or duties. A small not-for-profit organization offers the temporary sharing of duties as an opportunity for another employee to learn something new, and to be part of solving a problem for another employee in need.
  • Go home: Some IT firms that recruit internationally anticipate and accommodate the longer leaves required for visits to an employee's county of origin. For example, a technology company allowed an employee to work abroad in their country of origin to care for a sick parent. Recognizing that this will become an increasing demand, this company is considering the possibility of offering vacation leave for extended periods of time to effectively deal with such situations.
  • See home: A large company in the health sector raised the idea of partnering with telecommunications providers to put employees in direct contact with their home via a smart home monitoring system. The company noted that knowing what is going on at home is a huge factor for caregivers and that this technology, by removing the element of surprise about the state of care, would be extremely valuable.
  • Encourage employees to ask: A participant from a small organization suggested the use of an "accommodations request," where employees submit details including the estimated time and nature of the caregiving responsibilities. The participant noted that managers would know to expect changes along the way; however, this would allow employers to evaluate the request and develop a plan.

Challenge #4

Challenge: Combating workplace taboos about taking time off to provide care

Profile: Large financial services/insurance employer in central Canada

Solution: We permit teleworking, and we have changed our sick leave to allow employees to use it when caring for a family member or friend who is sick. We validate caregivers' responsibilities through open communication between the employer and employee. We allow employees to manage their work weeks – they may work various hours (e.g. eight hours one day and four hours the next) as long as it adds up to the standard 40 hours per week. If an employee knows they need to take their parent to an appointment every Wednesday, they plan to take every Wednesday afternoon off and make up the time another day.

Challenge #5

Challenge: How to accommodate employees working shifts in the retail sector

Profile: Large retail employer in central Canada

Solution: Within the constraints of the business model, there is considerable openness on the part of retail employers to offer flexible workplace practices to hourly employees due to the different shifts (e.g. mornings, afternoons, nights and weekends). This would allow employees with caregiving responsibilities to easily alter their schedule to meet their needs. Our company uses software that enables employees to login to an online account to view and amend their schedule from home. This program plans schedules based on all of the schedule variables and availabilities. For salaried staff, there are additional flexible workplace practices such as teleworking, hoteling* stations, and the use of laptops and smartphones etc.

Note: Hoteling refers to generic work stations that employees reserve on the days they plan to be in the office.

Barriers relate to awareness, roles and leadership

Employers were candid about the challenges of providing appropriate support for employee caregivers, which can be broadly grouped into the areas of awareness, job roles, and leadership.

  • Awareness: Many organizations feel ill-equipped to deal with caregiver needs because they just don't know much about the issue. They also recognize the need to communicate that they are open to supporting employees on this issue. A large, financial services/insurance company in central Canada said that one of the biggest barriers to supporting employee caregivers is a lack of time to search for information, and suggested the creation of an information toolkit for employers with an online presence, education and training, and a help line. It was also noted that awareness means being prepared to understand and accept unfamiliar family dynamics and cultural expectations (e.g. caring for distant relatives or step-families).
  • Nature of the role: Employers expressed compassion, but they were also very concerned that accommodation be perceived as fair and consistent across the organization – something not easily achieved when there are multiple business lines, campuses and job descriptions. Skilled jobs in sectors such as health care and manufacturing require immediate replacements, which can be costly and resource-draining. In other cases, the employee is more easily replaced – and therefore accommodating them is more difficult to justify on a cost basis. Many employees are not easily replaceable; for smaller companies, the loss of a key worker can be significant.

    A large-sized manufacturing company noted that the real challenge is lost productivity as a result of those individuals not easily accommodated by flexible work schedules and work-from-home arrangements (e.g. manufacturing production staff). In these instances, the employee is simply absent from work; co-workers must pick up additional duties, overtime may be required to address the lost productivity, and production deadlines may be affected. In the event that an employee's absence is sporadic, unplanned or longer in duration than anticipated, and/or work-from-home is not an option, challenges arise with respect to labour planning. For example, this same company noted the need to consider backfilling the employee with a temporary worker or contract employee, which leads to increased costs. Employees of self-regulated professions (e.g. doctors, lawyers), who work independently may represent a unique group that requires a different approach to achieve work-life balance needs.
  • Leadership and training: Organizational culture is driven from the top down, and begins with the executive-level leadership. Creating and fostering a workplace culture where employees feel comfortable to self-identify as a caregiver to management is critical and begins with executive-level leadership. Moreover, ensuring that direct managers have the training, resources and latitude to support employee caregivers is key. A large company in western Canada indicated that leadership and organizational culture are the biggest barriers to overcome in responding to the needs of employees with caregiving responsibilities. However, educating leaders on the merits of flexible workplace practices and the need to change organizational culture can be a challenge, especially if leaders have not dealt firsthand with some of these situations. A possible solution could be a leadership course designed to help leaders work with employees to find solutions rather than erect road blocks.

The lack of front-line management training is a related barrier, reported a large public sector organization in central Canada. Many managers are not willing to be flexible, creative or supportive when it comes to responding to the needs of employees with caregiving responsibilities. Ensuring that they learn to respect and support their employees when it comes to work-life balance and caregiving is not only compassionate, it makes good business sense. "When you offer to support your employees based on their needs and situations, morale and productivity increase," this participant noted.

Challenge #6

Challenge: Employee who must go to country of origin to care for an aging parent

Profile: Medium-sized employer in western Canada

Solution: We allow employees to work from home, and have some common days when they need to be in the office. If employees need to go abroad for family responsibilities, we allow them to work from wherever they are – they're not required to use vacation days. We are a global company, so we recognize and are sensitive to different cultural practices. We also have good leadership – a culture of trust comes from the CEO and trickles down to the team. We know if someone needs to take time off they will make it up at some point, and we trust our employees to work from wherever they want. We are currently researching the concept of unlimited vacation to provide increased flexibility, knowing many employees have families oversees.

Challenge #7

Challenge: How to respond when an urgent situation becomes chronic

Profile: Large manufacturing employer in central Canada

Solution: When you hear about caregiving situations, you automatically go into compassion mode and do whatever it takes to accommodate the employee. Even so, you are usually thinking short term, and as time goes on and things change, it's hard to know when to implement a longer-term plan. As an employee, you don't want to worry about the security of your job while dealing with a crisis. However, a crisis can lead to a longer-term situation; therefore managers need to develop an action plan that takes into account all factors. In an urgent situation, our company uses informal policies such as leave; over a longer period we will use formal practices such as ongoing flexible hours, where employees can choose the schedule they want.

Practical Suggestions for Employers

With more than one in three Canadians in the workforce already feeling the impact of caregiving, this is an issue that matters greatly to employers. In our consultations, we learned that there is a great appetite for more knowledge about the issue and tools to support organizations. Companies want to understand more about employee caregivers – who they are, what they do, and what they need to balance work and life – so that they can create their own analytics and tailored solutions.

The good news is that becoming a workplace that is responsive to the needs of employee caregivers doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. It's likely that your organization already has some programs and options in place, and is applying some best practices in the areas of flexibility and technology. How can you encourage your organization to become a more caregiver-friendly workplace?

STEP 1: Assess the need (engage your employees)

Some of the employers consulted considered their lack of knowledge a key barrier: they were unsure which employees need support to balance work and caregiving responsibilities. A large technology/communication company noted that caregiving is “just something people do – and often do not discuss with others until it gets to be too much.” They and others felt that it was preferable to have a better understanding of which employees could benefit from support – and in what ways – before it got to that point.

Accordingly, an important initial step in becoming a caregiver-friendly workplace is assessing and understanding the needs of your employees. Do they need short-term flexibility or longer-term solutions? Is it a matter of needing flexible hours of work or time off? Are they looking for assistance in finding community support options? Are there supports available that employees may not be aware of? Knowing the answers to these questions and others can aid in finding the best solution for all.

As caregiver-friendly workplaces can vary in design depending on the nature of the work and the needs of the employees, opening a dialogue with employee councils, unions and other employee groups is an important step. While each type of employee group may present unique perspectives, it is recognized that the issue of caregiving affects all employee groups and industries.

One way of gathering this information is to use staff surveys; another is to hold informal or formal chats with employees. There are several assessment tools available to help employers identify the most appropriate supports for their workplace and to consider the benefits of offering them.

STEP 2: Consider the benefits to your organization and your employees

Although none of the organizations we consulted had conducted a formal study of the costs and benefits of providing support to caregivers, most were assured of the value based on employee feedback. A large public sector organization in Atlantic Canada articulated that although they had not done a business case, they recognize the difficulty in finding people, so believe it's better to be flexible and not lose them in the first place. Others stated that they were willing to absorb the price of accommodation as a cost of doing business.

Key benefits of becoming a caregiver-friendly workplace

  • Increase employee engagement
  • Recruit and retain the best talent
  • Reduce costs

Understandably, many of the participating employers were unsure of how to approach a formal analysis that exclusively measures the costs and benefits of providing support to caregivers. They noted that the methodology would look different for each business and industry. Multiple factors must be taken into consideration, such as impact on absenteeism, working conditions, and hiring and training. As one employer pointed out, even accessing the data poses a difficulty, as there is no mechanism in place to track why people are using a program. Most companies don't differentiate between child care and caregiving – employees can choose to be part of the program for many reasons.

While there are acknowledged challenges quantifying some of the results, Canadian companies that have analyzed the return on investment in health and wellness programs report positive results. A Conference Board of Canada study on how to develop a business case for investments in workplace health and wellness suggests selecting and establishing benchmarks and using a combination of tangible and intangible metrics.Footnote 6 Likewise, a U.S. study conducted by Boston College suggested using a combination of internal and external metrics supplemented with anecdotal evidence.Footnote 7

A large financial institution reported that regular EAP evaluations have validated their benefits, and provided the evidence some senior managers require before expanding certain policies. It was recognized that at times providing flexible workplace arrangement can create more work for managers and HR advisors, but can result in measurable improvements to:

  • Employee engagement: Many noted that flexibility is an important part of the workplace, valued by all, and one of the things that most attract people to an organization. A large consulting firm in central Canada pointed out that employees appreciate the accommodation and feel greater loyalty toward the company, some acknowledging they stayed because of the supports they were provided while raising their children.

    Employee feedback is a straightforward way of validating the importance of providing support: "We have heard via staff survey feedback that employees appreciate the availability of flexible schedules." Some companies use this to check in regularly on their benefits: "We ask employees to anonymously review the company once a year. One of the questions is 'What are the top three-five qualities that you like about the company, or reasons why you appreciate working at our company?' The flexible hours consistently rank as one of the five most common responses."
  • Recruitment and retention: A number of companies reported comparing their benefits to those of peer employers, and ensuring they matched the offering to attract and retain employees. Top employer lists were mentioned as benchmarks: "Our company has made a top employer program list and we are trying to stay on it." "We look to other award recipients and international companies to glean promising practices, incentives and flexible workplace practices to offer employees."
  • Cost savings: Several employers of many sizes and sectors mentioned that cost savings were a factor in providing flexibility:
    • "There is a cost benefit analysis happening in telecommuting – it's a huge cost benefit – we save money in real estate if we don't have to assume another floor."
    • "We gave up three floors worth of space – a huge cost savings because of these flex place arrangements."
    • "We did a cost-benefit around hoteling; we are saving money by sharing desks."

Of note, the Government of Canada has expressed interest in conducting additional research to quantify the cost-benefit to Canadian employers of offering various flexible workplace practices in support of caregivers.

STEP 3: Explore the resources

Employers told us they want tools and resources that are applicable to their circumstances, as there is no one-size-fits-all list of best practices. A number of companies suggested the value in a simple, user-friendly portal or website that could be uploaded to their internal website, including links to resources and useful information like federal and provincial leave provisions for family and other personal responsibilities. While not exhaustive, the Resource Toolbox represents the spectrum of information and support available to employers. This information will also be of interest to caregivers themselves.

Included in the list are links to websites with information on insurance products and EAPs, where employers can learn about products that can be offered as workplace benefits to assist caregivers.

Insurance providers in Canada offer various products either directly to individuals or through group benefits provided through employers, unions, or associations. Examples include:

  • long-term care insurance that provides, for example, a daily cash benefit that could be used to pay for needed services;
  • critical illness insurance that provides a lump sum payment to be used for whatever is needed (e.g. financial support for informal caregivers); and
  • extended medical benefits that cover care such as counselling for the caregiver.

EAPs are provided by some employers, and can include:

  • counselling to the employee and immediate family;
  • referrals to community services that offer support for caregivers; and
  • information sessions at the place of work on topics such as eldercare and health and wellness.

STEP 4: Lead and manage

If one third of your staff is impacted by something, it becomes a concern for senior leadership – whether you have 10 employees or 10,000 thousand. By communicating a strong tone from the top and empowering your HR department to provide support and training to front-line managers, you will overcome one of the biggest barriers to success. Creating and fostering a workplace that promotes open, effective communication helps to build a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their challenges in balancing work and care with their direct manager or HR department.

Once you have considered the benefits of becoming a caregiver-friendly organization, researched tools and resources, and arranged the necessary training, the next step is to put a plan into place. Then it's time for action: provide your employees with specific information about what your organization offers and watch their engagement grow.

As few as five hours of informal caregiving per week appears to be a threshold for experiencing disruptions in the workplace – and 15 hours can have a significant impact on lost time, productivity and morale. Don't wait for a crisis; take advantage of an opportunity for proactive leadership in an area of growing importance.

STEP 5: Be flexible in the approach

Providing care to a loved-one can be episodic and unpredictable, and can change in intensity or duration depending on the needs of the care receiver. As an employer it is important to remember that your employees' needs for flexible workplace practices may change over time. With this in mind, aim to keep an open dialogue with your employees, check in to ensure that the flexible workplace practices are meeting your and their needs, and share lessons learned and best practices with all employees. Flexibility can be accomplished by examining the current situation with a view to achieve small, incremental changes that improve efficiency and quality within the workplace. Ultimately, these proactive measures can help your company be an employer of choice, retain talent and save money.

The direct manager must be in the know, and open to listening and talking with employees about their needs. Ensuring that the direct manager is keeping an open dialogue and checking in with the employee will help determine if the flexible workplace practices are meeting the needs of the employee and the organization. For example, one large manufacturing company provided an employee with a new shift schedule (from nights to days) to help them better care for a child with a mental health issue. On a monthly basis, the supervisor and employee would have a check-in meeting to ensure that the flexible workplace schedule was still meeting the employee's needs.

Encourage your managers to share success stories, lessons learned and promising flexible workplace practices with all employees. This could be achieved by working with your HR professionals and executive leadership on a specific communications plan that builds awareness of the flexible workplace practices your organization offers, and fosters an understanding of the challenges that employee caregivers face.


Caregiving is an issue that will affect most Canadians at some point in their lives. As our population ages and labour force growth declines, the need to support employees with caregiving responsibilities will grow. In addition to representing a challenge to the caregivers themselves, these economic consequences are having an impact on Canadian employers and society more broadly. Employers, governments, stakeholders, academia, and citizens all have a role to play in tackling this issue moving forward. The Government of Canada, through the Canadian Employers for Caregivers Plan, is engaging with employers, further refining the business case for supporting employee caregivers and exploring ways to sustain employer engagement in this area. This is in addition to providing tax measures, targeted programs for caregivers under federal jurisdiction, Employment Insurance compassionate care benefits and special benefits.

Canadian employers are the experts when it comes to understanding their workforce needs today and in the future, and are best positioned to provide their employees with flexible workplace arrangements. They know intuitively – and from hard data on retention and engagement – that work-life balance initiatives can help decrease the negative consequences of caregiving to employee caregivers and their employers. Therefore, aiming to recognize and support the unique needs of individuals can help an organization strengthen their competitive and financial advantage.

Our consultations confirmed that executive-level leadership is imperative for creating a culture where caregivers feel comfortable discussing their work-life balance concerns. More and more Canadian employers are adapting existing workplace practices and provisions to meet employee caregiver needs on a case-by-case basis, offering paid and unpaid leave, flexible hours, the use of new technology and access to in-house programs. Going the next step and developing and adapting corporate policies and procedures that support caregivers will help communicate the values of your organization, and ensure consistent processes are in place for managers to use as a resource when supporting caregivers.

Through our journey as a Panel, we have come to appreciate how significant the issue of employees balancing work and care responsibilities will become for the business community and Canadian employers across all sectors in the future. Supporting employees who are caregivers is an important economic challenge that all organizations should address to help build positive and productive workplaces. We hope this report will assist you to support your employees to manage their work and care demands.

Panel Members

Caregivers Plan: Minister and Panel Members

List of employers consulted

  • Acadia University
  • Alzheimer Society
  • Ambulances St-Jean - Québec
  • AMI-Quebec
  • Aquatics Informatics
  • Arcelor Mittal
  • Armour Transportation
  • Assumption Life Insurance
  • Atlantic Lottery Corporation
  • Brunel Canada Ltd.
  • Build Toronto Inc.
  • CAA Niagara
  • Canada Border Services Agency
  • Canada Cartage Systems
  • Canadian Human Rights Commission
  • Canadian Nurses Association
  • Canadian Science Publishing
  • Canadian Tire
  • Canlan Ice Sports Corp.
  • Central East Community Care Access Centre
  • Children First
  • Circle of Care
  • CMC Electronics
  • College of Nurses of Ontario
  • Dalhousie University
  • Deloitte
  • Desjardins
  • Domtar
  • Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph Wellington
  • First Reference Inc.
  • Glenn Davis Group
  • Electronic Arts Canada
  • Enbridge Inc.
  • Ernst and Young (EY)
  • Fondation Chagnon
  • Grant Thornton LLP
  • Groupe Savoie
  • Habanero Consulting Group
  • Harry Rosen Inc.
  • Higher Options
  • Home Depot of Canada Inc.
  • Home Instead Senior Care
  • Hudson’s Bay Company
  • Imperial Manufacturing Ltd.
  • Intact Financial Corporation
  • Jazz Aviation
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • JTI Limited
  • Kerry's Place Autism Services
  • Konecranes Canada Inc.
  • L’Appui
  • Le Royal de Montréal
  • Loto Québec
  • MacLean Engineering & Marketing Co. Limited
  • Maple Reinders Group Ltd.
  • March of Dimes Canada
  • McCarthy Tétrault LLP
  • Median Solutions
  • Mercer
  • Momentum Credit Union
  • Mount Saint Vincent University
  • Mount Sinai Hospital
  • Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
  • New Brunswick Business Council
  • Northern Communications
  • Ogemawahj Tribal Council
  • Ontario Society (Coalition) of Senior Citizens Organizations
  • Parkinson Society of Canada
  • Parmalat Canada
  • Perfect Mind
  • PetValu
  • Ping Identity
  • PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)
  • Prince Rupert Port Authority
  • Quickmill Inc.
  • Regroupement québécois des organismes pour le développement de l'employabilité (RQuODE)
  • Reitmans Canada Ltd.
  • Réseau Canadien des entreprises d’entrainement
  • Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
  • Shared Services Canada
  • Shaw Communications
  • St. Joseph's Hospice
  • Standard Life
  • Support Services for Guelph Wellington
  • TD Canada Trust
  • Town of Lincoln
  • Town of Oakville
  • Turnay Electric Ltd.
  • TXJ Canada
  • University of Moncton
  • University of New Brunswick
  • Vancouver School District
  • Venture Media Labs Inc.
  • Women in Crisis (Algoma) Inc.
  • Workplace Safety North
  • Xplornet Communications Inc.
  • Your Workplace
  • Zaber Technologies

Note: Some employers who took part in the consultation process did not disclose their organization's name

Resource Toolbox

Inventory of employer-led flexible workplace practices that support employed caregivers

Paid and unpaid leave
Emergency caregiving leave Employees can request up to five days paid leave for care of a family member or friend
Employees can request up to five days paid leave for emergencies which could be health related but not for chronic health issues
Combination of leave Employees can request to use a combination of leave (personal/family, vacation or sick leave) to help care for a family member or friend
Personal/family leaveFootnote 8 Policies vary within organizations (federally vs non-federally regulated employers). Non-federally regulated employment standards vary by jurisdictional legislation
Non-federally regulated employees receive a range of 0 to 12 days per year. Some employers combine personal/family leave with sick leave
Employees have three floating days (additional paid leave)
SickleaveFootnote 9 Policies vary within organizations (federally vs non-federally regulated employers). Non-federally regulated employment standards vary by jurisdictional legislation
Non-federally regulated employees are provided with a range of sick leave from one day to 26 weeks
Employees may request to use sick leave for family illnesses
Self-insured medical leave where employees accumulate sick leave credits that they can use when they are ill or injured or in some cases to care for a gravely ill family member or a critically ill child
Unlimited sick leave
Vacation timeFootnote 10 Policies vary within organizations (federally vs non-federally regulated employers). Non-federally regulated employment standards vary by jurisdictional legislation
Employees may purchase additional vacation time (up to a maximum amount of weeks)
Ability for employees to take leave in hours rather than full days (e.g. two weeks' vacation made available in hours over an eight month period)
Bank of leave Employees who have exhausted his or her available paid leave can establish a leave bank under which a contributing employee can donate leave to the bank and recipient employees' draw leave to cover time out of the office due to a personal or family medical emergency
BereavementFootnote 11 Policies vary within organizations (federally vs non-federally regulated employers). Non-federally regulated employment standards vary by jurisdictional legislation
Employees may receive a minimum of three to seven days of leave following the death of a family member. Some employers provide a combination of paid and unpaid leave
Compassionate care benefitsFootnote 12 Non-federally regulated employment standards vary by jurisdictional legislation. Employees could have a range of 8 — 12 weeks of unpaid leave when a family member is gravely ill
Employers may provide a top-up benefit for employees bringing their salary back to their full salary levels for part or all of the leave
Leave to arrange care Employees may take up to three days paid leave to make arrangements for care
Leave with income-averaging Employee may request to take leave without pay for a period of a minimum of five weeks and a maximum of three months
Employee's salary is reduced over a 12 month period
Leave without pay Employees may take up to 12 months of leave without pay. This type of leave can be used for both short and long-term leave
Arrangements between employers and staff are discretionary
Family caregiver leaveFootnote 13 Family caregiver leave provides employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for employees to provide care or support to a family member with a serious medical condition. This type of leave is legislated in Saskatchewan, Quebec, and Ontario.
Flexible workplace arrangementsFootnote 14
Annualized hours Allows employees to choose (within boundaries) their days and hours of work for a set period of time
The period of time could be weekly (e.g. work 12 hours for three days and two hours for two days); or monthly (e.g. 60 hours one week and 20 hours the next week)
This may be ideal for employers with peak hours or seasonal peaks
Compressed work weeks/banking of hours Employee works for longer periods per day in exchange for a day off
Employees may start earlier or finish later than the normal work day
Common arrangements for 40 hours per week could include working an extra hour per day in exchange for one day off every two weeks
Flexible work locations Employees can be transferred to alternate locations across the country and in some cases internationally (depending on the organization)
Allows employees to choose their work location or choose to work off-site (e.g. from home)
Flex-time schedule/ flexible hours/breaks Employees work a full day but they set a range of start and finish times with their manager. Total hours of work per week are not affected
Allows manager to establish core hours where all employees will be at work (e.g. 9:30 am – 3:30 pm)
Employers provide flexible breaks where employees can undertake care responsibilities during their lunch hour. Provide preferred parking spaces for caregivers who are caring for a parent or child who are in critical condition and who may need to leave work urgently
Employees do not need to take formal leave but can make up the time off required another day (e.g. if an employee needs to leave for an hour during the day, they can stay 30 minutes extra over the next two days)
Employers can offer their employees different options for their work assignments (e.g. a truck driver who works long distances could temporarily move to shorter routes to allow him or her to be closer to home)
Job sharing Allows two or more people to share one or more positions or duties
Job sharing must work effectively for the team and expectations around pay, benefits and holidays must be well-communicated
This is an option for employers who do not have many part-time positions available
Have colleagues assigned as “back-ups” to files when an employee has caregiving responsibilities and who might need to be absent for a longer period of time.
No set schedule Allows employees to work the hours they choose, no questions asked, as long as work deadlines are met
Part-time/reduced hours Employees can choose to work less than 37.5 or 40 hours per week
Arrangements can be on a permanent or temporary basis
Hours can be negotiated between employer and employee to ensure coverage at peak workload hours
Phased retirement Employees may reduce their working hours or workload over a period of time leading to full retirement
Pension legislation allows for partial pension benefits to commence with formal phased retirement
Phased approach could be used to train the replacement employee or adjust the redistribution of work among remaining employees
Shift-work Employees can work a type of shift-work schedule where a person's work day is split into two or more parts (e.g. employee can start at 4:00 am, provide care responsibilities during the day and do a second shift at night). Employees who work split shifts need to manage their schedule so that they don't get burned out (especially if they are providing care during the day)
In some cases where spouses work at the same company, they can stagger their shifts for one spouse to provide care while the other is working
Employees can change their work shifts (e.g. can switch from a night shift to a day shift or exchange a Monday shift to Tuesday)
Telework/telecommuting Allows employees to do some of the regular work from home instead of going into the office
Employer and employees need to establish details such as hours of work, communications between teleworker, co-workers and clients
Dependent on employee's roles and responsibilities
Tools/devices (hardware) Depending on employees' roles and responsibilities, employers provide access to technology to enable them to work outside the office include hardware such as a laptop (with remote access), smart phone, tablet, teleconference/videoconference capabilities
In special circumstances, allow employees to have their cell phone close by while they are working in case of emergency (e.g. for employees who do not have direct access to a work phone)
Loaner equipment available for employee use (e.g. smart phone, laptop, tablet, etc.)
Establish policies around technology such as “technology free-time” or “smart phone free-zone” to allow employees to focus on work/home priorities (e.g. no answering emails from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am)
Tools/devices (software) Web application that enables collaborative work (e.g. sharing of documents, access to intranet portals, document and file management, social networks, extranets, websites, enterprise search and business intelligence)
Instant messaging software to allow employees to connect with colleagues regardless of their work location
Ability to work from home through an internet platform that allows employees access to their work emails without being connected to the network (e.g. from home through a virtual private network). Provide access to a secure channel to access work emails from employee's mobile device (smart phone or tablet)
Employees on shift-work can take advantage of scheduling software that allows employees to log-in to an online account to view and amend their schedule from home. This scheduling software also takes into consideration other variables such as vacations, leaves, etc. Provide employees with online access to HR policies, services, collective agreements, etc.
Blogs/chat programs to stay connected
Applications with EAP information 
Email notifications, online calendar to indicate regular hours and planned absences of employees
Other programs and services
Employee and Family Assistance Program Offerings vary by provider but can include referral services for community care options as well as counselling for the employee and/or their immediate family
Emergency elder care Some employers offer emergency elder care (similar to emergency child care) at minimal cost to the employee (employers cover the cost up to a maximum amount per year)
Back-up care is provided as an alternative when regular care is not available
Onsite seminars/ lunch and learn Varies by employer, but can include internal or external speakers discussing various aspects of caregiving such as community services available or the health of the care provider
Online networks/applications Online tools that help caregivers access information on programs and services available and connect them to existing networks
Health application (and general phone line) that directs users to medical and community supports as well as providing user health assessments and general information
Also provides information to employers via plan administrators such as a snapshot on the health of their workforce
Suite of benefits/cafeteria-style plans Web-based benefits platforms that connect employees to a menu of services and allow them to manage their own selections that are tailored to their needs and unique situation; similar to the ability of a customer to choose among available items in a cafeteria

Quick reference to Canadian information

This section contains a wide range of information and resources for employers and caregivers, divided into two areas:

  • Federal, Provincial and Territorial Resources
  • Domestic Information and Resources

Federal resources

Information for Caregiver Portal

The Information for Caregiver Portal provides an interactive map of Canada linking to federal, provincial and some municipal resources on financial information, care options, powers of attorney, health, mental health and dementia.

Family Caregiving: What are the Consequences?, Insights on Canadian Society 2013

Statistics Canada
The Statistics Canada study compares the different types of caregivers, based on the relationship with their primary care receiver and observes the amount of hours of care provided and the relationship it has on the various consequences associated with caregiving.

Portrait of Caregivers, General Social Survey 2012

Statistics Canada
Using data from the 2012 General Social Survey (GSS) on Caregiving and Care Receiving, this article profiles caregivers in Canada and their characteristics, along with the types of help provided, the number of hours of care, the impacts of providing care, and financial support for caregivers.

Leave provisions for family responsibilities by jurisdiction

Domestic information and resources

Community services and supports

211 Telephone Help Line and Website

211’s telephone help line (or dial 2-1-1) and website provide a gateway to community, social, non-clinical health and related government services. 211 helps to navigate the complex network of human services quickly and easily, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in over 100 languages.

Caregiver Supports and Programs

Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) Canada

VON Canada provides caregivers with information and resources on caregiver supports and programs available in various communities including adult day programs; caregiver support and education; overnight respite services; personal/home support; home maintenance and repair; and volunteer transportation.


L'Appui nationale works in partnership with stakeholders and L'Appui régionale to identify local priorities and improve the services offered to caregivers by targeting specific needs based on the region, including the development of information services, training, counselling and respite services. L'Appui nationale supports the establishment of services in each region of Quebec. It also administers the creation of a national information help-line and the creation of a web portal with information and resources by region.

Employer guides and toolkits

Making the Business Case for Investments in Workplace Health and Wellness

Conference Board of Canada

This report provides organizations of all sizes with advice on how to make the business case for investing in workplace health and wellness programs. The report is based on a literature review, a series of 10 case study interviews with employers of various sizes from a wide spectrum of sectors, and 13 information interviews with experts in health promotion, workplace wellness, and evaluation.

The Business Case for a Healthy Workplace, Health and Safety Ontario

Workplace safety and prevention services

The report argues that there is overwhelming evidence of financial, legal and organizational costs to ignoring an unhealthy, unsafe workplace; and solid financial benefits to creating a healthy workplace.

Curtailing the Cost of Caring for Employers and Employees: What Every CEO Should Know

Victorian Order of Nurses

Employers can realize potential cost savings through retaining employee caregivers, who often embody the type of work ethic that every CEO wants to encourage. The report suggests that this will be a long-term process requiring the commitment and cooperation of many stakeholders.

Toolkit for Employers: Resources for Supporting Family Caregivers in the Workplace

Family Caregivers' Network Society
This Toolkit is divided into two sections:

Section 1: Information for employers includes the impact of caregiving on employees and the workplace; and the cost of caregiving to an organization.

Section 2: Resources for employees who are family caregivers include community and healthcare support for family caregivers.

A Guide to Balancing Work and Caregiving Obligations: Collaborative approaches for a supportive and well-performing workplace

Canadian Human Rights Commission

This guide provides tips for developing accommodation solutions that are in harmony with human rights law. It outlines the rights and responsibilities of employees, employers, unions and/or employee representatives. The guide takes managers through the process of accommodating an employee’s need to care for a family member by providing information on how to discuss the issue, how to develop solutions, and how to ensure that the solutions are effective.

Combining care work and paid work: Is it sustainable?

This publication from Research on Aging Policies and Practices provides an analysis of the 2012 General Social Survey described in the Federal, provincial and territorial resource section of this report.

Workplaces that Work: Flexible Work Arrangements

HR Council

An online resource that provides readers with an overview of typical flexible workplace practices, the benefits to employers and employees of offering them, and tools for implementing and using flexible workplace practices.

Corporate leadership networks

Canadian Work-Life Leadership Circle and Canadian Work-Life Network

The Vanier Institute of the Family’s Work-Life Leadership Circle and Work-Life Network focuses on the way work, life and family impact one another by providing forums for discussion, a clearinghouse for work-life research, and a knowledge sharing platform for individuals and organizations.

Champion's Council

The Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association’s Champion’s Council is a group of leaders working to advance the profile of hospice palliative care across the country.

Organizations that support caregivers

Alzheimer's Foundation for Caregiving in Canada

The Alzheimer’s Foundation for Caregiving in Canada’s mission is to provide optimal care and services to individuals confronting dementia and to their caregivers and families. The Foundation can assist with a wide variety of programs and services including information and resources, educational material, connecting caregivers with one another, and memory screening initiatives.

Alzheimer Society Canada

The Alzheimer Society of Canada works nationwide to improve the quality of life for Canadians affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and to advance the search for the cause and cure. This organization has programs and services in different communities across Canada including information, resources, education, support and counselling.

Autism Society of Canada

Autism Society Canada works nationwide to reduce the impact of autism spectrum disorders on individuals and their families. The Society supports universally accessible Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) treatment and services, as well as the implementation of national surveillance, and better funding for ASD research.

Canadian Association for Community Living

The Canadian Association for Community Living is a family-based association assisting people with intellectual disabilities and their families to advance inclusion. In Canada and around the world, the Association shares information, fosters leadership for inclusion, engages community leaders and policy makers, seeds innovation and supports research.

Canadian Cancer Society

The Canadian Cancer Society works with government and legislators to bring about healthy public policies by taking a stand on important cancer issues; raising Canadians’ awareness and understanding about these issues; and influencing government.

Canadian Caregiver Coalition (CCC)

The Canadian Caregiver Coalition is a virtual alliance of diverse partner organizations that work collectively and autonomously to identify and respond to the needs of caregivers in Canada. Their mission is to enhance the quality of life for family caregivers through advocacy and synergistic partnerships. Their vision is of a Canada that recognizes, respects, and values the integral role of family caregivers in society.

Canadian Home Care Association (CHCA)

The Canadian Home Care Association seeks to aid in achieving accessible, responsive home care and community supports which enable people to safely stay in their homes with dignity, independence and quality of life. As a national association, the CHCA seeks to represent its members' voices to influence national policy directions on key professional and political issues.

Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA)

The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) is the national voice for hospice palliative care in Canada. Advancing and advocating for quality end-of-life/hospice palliative care in Canada, the CHPCA’s work includes public policy, public education and awareness.

Canadian Medical Association (CMA)

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is a national, voluntary association of physicians that advocates on behalf of its members and the public for access to high-quality health care. The CMA also provides leadership and guidance to physicians.

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) facilitates access to the resources people require to maintain and improve mental health and community integration, to build resilience, and to support recovery from mental illness.

Family Caregivers Network Society (FCNS)

The Family Caregivers Network Society (FCNS) is a not-for-profit society whose mission is to inform, support and educate on issues of concern to family caregivers. FCNS promotes the significance of the family caregiver’s role and contribution in the healthcare system.

March of Dimes Canada

The March of Dimes Canada is a rehabilitation and advocacy charity for people with physical disabilities. The organization’s goal is to enhance the independence and community participation of people with physical disabilities every day through a wide range of programs and services across the country.

Vanier Institute of the Family

The Vanier Institute of the Family is an independent, national, bilingual, non-profit organization committed to promoting the well-being of Canadian families. The Vanier Institute undertakes and commissions research on Canadian families and the context in which families nurture their members and contribute to their communities. Using data from many sources, the Institute develops facts and figures into information, making it accessible and available to all Canadians.

Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) Canada

VON Canada offers more than 75 different home care, personal support, and community services to enhance each client’s quality of life by providing them with the personal assistance and support needed to make them comfortable in their own home.

Award and recognition programs

Canada Cares

Canada Cares elevates the role of family and professional caregivers while establishing multi-disciplinary, multi-sector partnerships that focus on recognition, participation, awareness, accessibility and diverse community engagement. Canada Cares offers three caregiver support-related awards.

Family Caregivers' Network Society

The Family Caregivers’ Network Society provides support groups; information and referrals to community resources; educational sessions; and assistance in navigating the healthcare system.

Canada's Top 100 Employers

A national competition to determine which employers lead in their industries by offering exceptional workplaces for their employees, including in the area of health, financial and family benefits.

Insurance products

Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association (CLHIA)

CLHIA is a voluntary non-profit association with member companies accounting for the vast majority of Canada's life and health insurance business.

A guide to disability insurance

Financial Consumer Agency of Canada: Understanding insurance basics

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC) derives its mandate from the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada Act. The Act outlines its functions, administration and enforcement powers, and lists the sections of federal laws and regulations under its supervision.

Financial Services Commission of Ontario: Understanding Critical Illness Insurance

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) was established under the Financial Services Commission of Ontario Act, 1997 with a legislative mandate to provide regulatory services that protect the public interest and enhance public confidence in the sectors it regulates.

Quick reference of international information

This section contains an overview of the current international landscape for supporting caregivers in the workforce as well as information and resources for employers and caregivers divided into two areas:

  • International landscape
  • International infromation and resources

International landscape

Supporting caregivers is a shared priority by governments and employers in many countries, increasingly so over the past decade. Governments are implementing formal and broad national strategies for all caregivers, employers are seeking ways to support their employees who are caregivers, and governments and employers are working together to find ways to support caregivers in the labour force.

National strategies

The United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand, and Australia have implemented national strategies that focus on various aspects of supporting caregivers, including: information services, financial support for caregivers, community supports to promote caregivers well-being, legislation to allow for requests for flexible workplace practices, and working with employer organizations to promote the benefits of supporting caregivers in the workplace.

Employer supports

As in Canada, employers of varying sizes and in various industries internationally are seeking ways to support their employees who are also informal caregivers. The types of practices offered are very similar to those found in Canada, including paid and unpaid time off, reduction of hours (temporary or permanent), compressed hours, flexible hours (start and finish times), and teleworking. In some countries there appears to be a wider availability, for example surveys in the UK have found that 96% of employers offer some form of flexible workplace practice.Footnote 15

Government and employer joint initiatives

In countries such as the UK, Australia, and Sweden, government and employers are coming together to find ways to support working caregivers. For example, the UK government has teamed with employers to support the development of an employer membership forum, Employers for Carers UK, which works to identify and promote the business benefits of supporting caregivers in the workplace. Carers UK is branching out beyond the UK, seeking a global employers for carers network and plans to provide resources to facilitate the start-up of carer networks in other countries.

International information and resources

National strategies

National Carers’ Strategy (United Kingdom)

Department of Health

A national strategy focused on providing government financial support to caregivers, establishing an information services helpline, and encouraging flexible workplaces via legislation and supporting an employer membership organization to identify and promote business benefits of supporting caregivers in the workplace.

National Carer Strategy (Australia)

Department of Social Services

A national strategy with priorities including: recognition, economic security, information, services for caregivers, and health and well-being.

Carers’ Strategy Action Plan (New Zealand)

Ministry of Social Development

A national strategy, building on previous strategies, designed to improve support for carers in the areas of health, information provision, and balancing work and caregiving responsibilities.

Employer guides and toolkits

Employers for Carers (United Kingdom)

An employer membership forum that provides advice and support for employers seeking to develop caregiver-friendly workplaces. In addition to offering tools and resources to members, they also provide a consultancy service to support employers in becoming more caregiver-friendly.

Best Practices in Workplace Eldercare Study (United States of America)

National Alliance for Caregiving

The Best Practices in Workplace Eldercare Study was conducted to identify current trends and innovations in workplace policies and practices that support employees with eldercare responsibilities. The issues associated with caregiving were highlighted by several workplace surveys demonstrating the prevalence of caregiving in the workforce.

Employer Resource Guide (United States of America)


This resource guide aims to help employers get started and understand the first steps in supporting their caregiving employees. It provides tips for taking action and links to relevant research and resources. The website also provides employers with a suite of tools and best practices from employers across the country; testimonials from caregiving employee heroes; links to connect through social media; a repository of research on the topic of work and caregiving in one location; and additional caregiving resources for employers and employees.

Flex Strategies to Attract, Engage & Retain Older Workers (United States of America)

Sloan Center on Aging and Work at Boston College

This paper explores whether organizations have workplace flexibility strategies; how employers incorporate age into their flexibility strategies; how they make decisions about flexibility related to older workers; the business drivers influencing their decisions; innovations in scheduling, hours worked, place of work, career flow, and job design; challenges employers have faced in launching innovative practices; and how they measure success.

Building the Business Case for Work-Life Programs (United States of America)

Boston College Center for Work and Family

This report highlights business case information from a variety of sources, including qualitative and quantitative research and the experience of some of the corporate partners of the Boston College Center for Work and Family. The report argues that the best business case is one that is tailored to the unique needs and aspirations of an organization.

Flexible Workplaces: Practical Flexible Work Practices to Achieve a Work Life Balance – a Guide for Employers and Employees (Tasmania)

Women Tasmania, Department of Premier and Cabinet

A resource guide for employers and employees seeking to provide information about flexible workplace options, including: what they are, their potential benefits, and considerations for implementation.

Select examples of companies providing flexible workplace practices

Achmea Netherlands (Netherlands)

This Dutch insurance company, part of an international financial organization, provides employees balancing work and caregiving responsibilities with a number of flexible work arrangements including part time work, home based teleworking, and longer leave than is required under legal obligation.

British Telecom (United Kingdom)

British Telecom provides employees with flexible workplace schedules and resources such as toolkits containing information about the company’s caregiving services along with advice on caregiving responsibilities, life adjustments, and actions that should be taken if the individual needs to leave work.

Flinders University (Australia)

Flinders University provides five days of paid leave for caregivers supporting ill family members.


IBM provides carers’ leave for staff caring for/supporting an immediate family member. Employees may apply for a career break of up to 12 months to allow time for travel, study or care for family.

Intel (United States)

Intel provides an EAP, caregiving seminars, flexible work arrangements (e.g. telecommuting, leave, modified schedules for doctor appointments), training courses, information sessions about caregiving services, and a Dependent Care Assistance Program.

Pentascope (Netherlands)

Pentascope employees with caring responsibilities have access to flexible working hours. The company raises awareness not only among managers and colleagues, but also among caregivers themselves by publishing articles in internal newsletters; hosting caregiver focus groups; developing a workshop for managers on working caregivers’ issues, and giving caregiving employees flowers to mark National Carers Day.

Other employer provided benefits

Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (United States of America)

A Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account permits employees to set aside a portion of their paycheque tax free to pay for dependent care expenses.

Employee assistance program products

Employee Assistance Trade Association

Employee Assistance Trade Association (EASNA) advances the competitive excellence of its members by fostering best practices, research, education, and advocacy in behavioral health and wellness that impacts workplace performance.

Corporate leadership networks

Corporate Leadership for Employee Caregivers (United States of America)

Respect a Caregiver’s Time (ReACT)

ReACT is an employer-focused coalition dedicated to addressing the challenges faced by employee caregivers and reducing the impact on the companies that employ them. ReACT represents nearly one million employees through its membership of more than 30 companies and non-profit organizations.

Employers for Carers (United Kingdom)

Employers for Carers is chaired by British Gas and supported by the specialist knowledge of Carers UK. The purpose of the organization is to ensure that employers have the support to retain employees with caring responsibilities. The organization does this by providing practical advice and support; identifying and promoting the business benefits of supporting carers in the workplace; and influencing employment policy and practice to create a culture which supports carers in and into work.

Award and recognition programs

Respect a Caregiver’s Time (United States of America)

ReACT, a coalition of leading employers from more than 75 corporations, academic institutions, non-profits and government joined together to launch an awareness building tool to help employers support caregivers while gaining a competitive advantage in the race to attract and retain the best talent.

Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation Award (United States of America)

The Rosalinde Gilbert Innovations in Alzheimer's Disease Caregiving Legacy Award Program promotes innovation in the field of Alzheimer's disease caregiving by recognizing and rewarding those efforts which lead the way in addressing the needs of Alzheimer's caregivers.

AARP Best Employers International Award

The AARP Best Employers International Award honors non-U.S.-based organizations that value the skills and talents of experienced workers, meet their needs, and provide a path for future workers. Winners employ innovative models to engage older workers including flexible work and caregiver or grandparent leave.



Footnote 1

Sinha, M. (2012). "Portrait of Caregivers, 2012." General Social Survey, Statistics Canada. (Accessed 19 November 2014)

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Footnote 2

Lilly, M. (2010). "Curtailing the Cost of Caring for Employers and Employees: What Every CEO Should Know." VON Canada 2010. (Accessed 19 November 2014)

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Footnote 3

Turcotte, M. (2013). "Family Caregiving: what are the consequences?" Insights on Canadian Society, Statistics Canada. (Accessed 21 November 2014)

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Footnote 4

Chenier, L., Hoganson, C. and Thorpe, K. (2012). "Making the Business Case for Investments in Workplace Health and Wellness." The Conference Board of Canada. (Accessed 19 November 2014)

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Footnote 5

Fast, J., Lero, D., DeMarco, R., Ferrira, H., and Eales, J. (2014). "Combining care work and paid work: Is it sustainable?" Research on Aging Policies and Practice. (Accessed 19 November 2014)

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Footnote 6

Chenier, L., Hoganson, C. and Thorpe, K. (2012). "Making the Business Case for Investments in Workplace Health and Wellness." The Conference Board of Canada.

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Footnote 7

Van Deusen, F., Ladge, J., James, J., and Harrington, B. Building the Business Case for Work-Life Programs. Boston College Center for Work and Family, 3. (Accessed on 19 November 2014)

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Footnote 8

Labour Law Analysis: Strategic Policy, Analysis and Workplace Information Directorate; Labour Program; Employment and Social Development Canada, August 2014.

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Footnote 9

Ibid., 29.

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Footnote 10

Ibid., 29.

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Footnote 11

Ibid., 29.

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Footnote 12

Ibid., 29.

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Footnote 13

Ontario Government news release

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Footnote 14

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

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Footnote 15

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. (2012). "Flexible working provision and uptake." (Accessed 19 November 2014)

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