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High-tech caregivers benefits solutions for retailers


Do well by doing good. U.S. businesses are taking this adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin to heart.

It's good business. Happy employees are engaged employees, and that translates into productivity gains and ultimately to happy customers and a better bottom line.

Retail chains, in particular, are doing the cost-benefit math. They are implementing strategies and adopting new tools to help employees address the single most pressing issue in their lives — their families. Given its large hourly workforce, no business sector or employee population suffers greater financial and productivity loss when distracted, stressed, or forced to miss work to care for a child or other family member with a developmental disability.

With an estimated one in six children diagnosed with developmental disabilities, including autism, chains bear an increasing share of the national productivity hemorrhage of as much as 250 hours of missed work per employee annually.

The cost of these lost hours averages $3,000 to $5,000 per year per employee.

But what does it cost employers? Billions, according to Gallup research sponsored by Pfizer/Respect a Caregiver's Time (ReACT) in 2011. Dan Witters, research director of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index estimates, "that the cost of lost productivity due to absenteeism among full-time workers is more than $25 billion annually." Add part-time workers and the estimated cost to business climbs exponentially.

Caregiving is everyone's burden

The Gallup analysis reported at least 17% of all full-time workers in every major socioeconomic and demographic group identify as caregivers. This means the impact on large retailers and chains is not just on the sales floor or in the warehouse, it's at every level of management.

Of the 17 percent of US workers Gallup reported as involved in caregiving, 46% were men. High-income households ($90,000-plus) accounted for 15 percent of caregivers; 16% were middle-income households earning between $36,000-$90,000, and 21% reported incomes of less than $46,000. The challenge is systemic.

What are retailers doing to stem the loss?

They are paying attention. Increasingly, regional directors, store managers, supervisors, human resources and the C-suite are thinking "outside the box" to identify new ways to support caregiver employees in general and working parents in particular who are caring for children or other family members with developmental disabilities. Like other industries, the goal is simple: Reduce absenteeism and increase productivity.

Some companies have expanded insurance coverage to, for example, provide access and coverage for home-based, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy services for children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

But programs like ABA address only a single challenge of the many facing families caring for those autism and are typically not available for families caring for individuals with developmental disabilities. For chains covering far-flung geographies, licensed therapists qualified to do in-home therapy are often unavailable or too costly to offer to part-time or hourly wage employees.Moreover, services like ABA typically are not available 24/7 leaving families stranded in the event of an "unscheduled" crisis.

Access to online support

To address the needs of more employees cost-effectively, companies are looking to technology to deliver support to their workforces where they live, where they work, and when they need it.

Costco Wholesale Corp., for one, is providing employees with a web-based platform that offers easy-to-use training, enables parents to coordinate their child's care, and provides remote clinical support in-home or wherever the parent needs it.

Such tools go a long way to engage and support employees. Employers benefit from reduced turnover, improved productivity, and greater employee commitment.

For parents of children with developmental disabilities such as autism, for example, chains like Costco are offering access to:

1. Tele-health services: Not a specific service, Tele-health covers a variety of technologies and tactics that include counseling and support 24/7. It can include real-time, two-way interaction between a caregiver and, for example, a therapist via phone, computer or tablet, or access to online training videos or peer groups. This type of service may often substitute for in-home counseling when it is not available. Tele-health offers the advantage of scale and access in delivering effective treatment solutions to employees wherever and whenever they need them.

2. Care coordination services: “It takes a village” to raise a child and additional support professionals to raise a child with autism or other developmental disability. These care teams typically work independently with little or no communication between them. So employees miss work or extend breaks to coordinate appointments, therapy sessions, and school team meetings.

To facilitate the process and minimize employee downtime, employers now offer access to web-based technologies that permit real-time communication and crucial data sharing among their child or dependent's team members.

3. Parent-to-parent support services: Fearing stigmatization or even termination, employees often will minimize their issues at home. However, employers must still deal with the fallout when an employee's care safety net ruptures in the form of increased absenteeism, lowered productivity and poor performance.

A growing number of chains now offer access to peer-to-peer social networks to support employees and their families, easing their isolation and providing a forum to share best practices and resources. Increasingly, easy and issue-targeted access to relevant online communities and forums is becoming an integral element of benefits programs serving this population.

Regardless of the economic outlook, productivity matters. Balancing the needs of one's human capital with the demands of the marketplace is just good business. Success belongs to those companies already investing in or reviewing cost-efficient technologies and services to boost morale, improve presenteeism and foster a more productive, focused workforce.

Mike Civello is VP of employee benefits at Rethink Benefits (, a global health technology provider offering an online solution featuring a comprehensive video-based treatment program, sophisticated behavior intervention planning tools, training for caregivers, individualized assessments, and online skills-based activities for individuals tied to the program.

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