By Alix Langone
January 18, 2019

If taking care of an aging parent or family member has impacted your career, you’re not alone.

According to new research from the Harvard Business School, a full third of American workers reported having to leave a job at some point during the course of their career due to caregiving responsibilities — and one third of those people left specifically to take care of an elderly person with daily living needs.

While this may not come as a surprise to most American workers juggling the ever-elusive “work-life balance,” only 24% of employers surveyed believed caregiving (from childcare to eldercare) was affecting their employees’ performance at work. Meanwhile, 80% of employees surveyed said caregiving responsibilities impacted their productivity at work. The study was conducted by a third-party survey firm using an online panel with responses from 1,500 employees and 300 human resource professional throughout the U.S.

Having to leave a job early or quit the workforce altogether has significant financial implications for caregivers. A 2011 MetLife study found that when women, who still shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities, leave their jobs to look after a loved one, they miss out on $142,693 in total individual wages and another $131,351 in Social Security benefits. While MetLife hasn’t updated those numbers since, it’s safe to assume they’ve risen in the intervening years.

The Harvard Business School research also highlights a disconnect between the benefits companies offer their workers and the kinds of benefits workers actually need, according to the authors, Joe Fuller and Manjari Raman. “The juxtaposition of the two survey results highlights that it is an open secret in most organizations that employees are burdened with care issues and that many will pay some price as a result,” they write.

Half of middle-aged Americans (47%) said they were “sandwiched” between providing for parents aged 65 and older, while simultaneously raising children or supporting an adult child 18 years and older. Four out of 10 employees said they were in “high-burden” situations managing their careers, childcare and eldercare all at once.

Given that one in four Americans will be over the age of 55 by 2020, ignoring employees’ caregiving needs will continue to grow more expensive for employers. According to a 2013 AARP estimate cited in the study, it cost employers $6.6 billion to replace employees (9% left work either to retire early or quit) and almost $6.3 billion in workday interruptions like coming in late, leaving early, taking time off in the middle of the day, or handling eldercare matters during working hours.

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