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How Kimberly-Clark supports caregiving colleagues

Tuesday, November 5, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Nancy Brown-Koeller

I work "full time-plus. ” I have a demanding job and volunteer during my "off” time.

That’s not an unusual story for a woman in business. What is a bit different: The place I work — Kimberly-Clark Corporation — is the place I volunteer, as part of the company’s Family Caregiver Network (FCN).

In our country, the average family caregiver, a person providing unpaid care to an adult family member or friend, is an employed female, age 48, who is caregiving for an aging parent and has a child under 18 at home.

About 20 years ago, Kimberly-Clark encouraged the formation of employee networks (aka affinity groups or employee resource groups) so that employees with common interests could inform and support each other’s professional development while benefiting the company’s recruiting, retention and communication. Shortly after, a group of employees had the insight to form an affinity group for family caregivers. We applied and received ERG status for the purpose of retaining and improving the effectiveness of employees by providing information, support and advocacy for family caregiving. We believe it is the only ERG of its kind in the country.

Kimberly-Clark provides a small budget for ERGs from the human resources diversity budget. (Other companies may find a home for this in their work/life balance office.) At Kimberly-Clark, members of ERGs use corporate meeting facilities, but volunteers use their own time and talent to run the networks.

For as long as FCN has existed, we have been holding quarterly lunch-and-learn forums and occasional longer workshops to present speakers on topics of interest to caregivers or those preparing to care, mostly Baby Boomers. The forums are open to all Kimberly-Clark employees and their spouses and partners. Panel discussions with elder law specialists are a perennial favorite.

This year alone, the FCN:

  • Invited a certified senior move manager to talk about ways to help an aging parent move from a larger home to a smaller home.
  • Organized a book club and teleconference with New York Times blogger Jane Gross, author of The Bittersweet Season, Caring for Yourself and Your Aging Parents.
  • Hosted a Prepare to Care Resource Fair. Nearly two dozen local exhibitors who have a business or service of interest to caregivers and future caregiversfilled a large conference room. The exhibitors were thrilled with the results — many had more contacts during this on-site event than at some of the senior/caregiving expos they attend. It was more convenient for employees, too. As one employee said, "Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is great information!”

More than 65 million people in the United States are serving as family caregivers, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. It’s obvious that many employees have to devote time to caregiving responsibilities, though those responsibilities are often unseen by their employers. The pressures felt by an employed caregiver show up as stress-related illness, higher utilization of health care, decreased productivity, high absences and financial losses from reduced work hours.In a survey done by the National Alliance for Caregiving, 10 percent of caregivers said they had to give up work entirely.

Often it’s a crisis (dad has a stroke, mom has a broken hip) that causes a chaotic time in work and home life.There no way to predict when the crisis will happen, but there are preparations to reduce disruptions and have better outcomes for all.

Many professionals who support family caregivers, such as county Aging and Disability Resource Centers and Caregiver Coalitions, have asked us to share our model and practices and encourage other employers to offer resources for employees before "the crisis.” Being unprepared puts a huge burden on all ― the providers, the community, the employee and the employer.

If your company hasn’t reviewed its human resource policies lately, it’s important it does and include caregiver resources in the mix. Remember how businesses adapted to accommodate the needs of workers with young children in the 1980s? Now there’s a new challenge: Most people ― and by "people” I mean "women”― will spend more years caring for aging parents than they did for their children. The ideal is to have an eldercare resource and referral system with access to a geriatric care manager.

However, with more limited resources, it’s still possible to support employees. As we’ve shown at Kimberly-Clark, a small budget, flexible work policies, corporate approval of employee networks and a passionate group of volunteers can make a huge difference.

Nancy Brown-Koeller is a technical leader in the marketing research department at Kimberly-Clark Corporation. She is chairperson of the Family Caregivers Network and has been volunteering with FCN for 17 years. She holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology and has a special interest in aging. She feels extremely lucky to have a wonderful brother and sister who share care-giving responsibilities for their mother.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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