16 Jan 2019

New Research from HBS Prof: Growing Caregiving Crisis Hurting Firm Profitability, Employee Productivity

According to new survey results, 80 percent of workers with caregiving responsibilities say productivity affected but just 24 percent of employers think caregiving influences performance

BOSTON—New research finds that three out of four U.S. workers have caregiving responsibilities, with the vast majority indicating these responsibilities are negatively affecting their productivity. At the same time, less than a quarter of employers think caregiving affects worker performance.

The Caring Company, a new research report co-authored by Harvard Business School Professor and Managing the Future of Work Project Co-Chair Joseph Fuller and Project Director and Senior Researcher Manjari Raman, reveals this dramatic misalignment in America’s care economy. This growing crisis is adding millions in hidden costs to U.S. firms due to factors such as employee turnover and absenteeism, the research finds.

“U.S. firms are facing a caregiving crisis and refuse to acknowledge it. They are oblivious to the growing costs of the care economy and that is hurting them and their employees,” said Fuller. “It is clear that firms can gain a competitive advantage by investing in a care culture. But first they need to recognize the problem and implement a deliberate care strategy to support their employees.”

The full report can be downloaded here: http://www.hbs.edu/managing-the-future-of-work/research/Pages/the-caring-company.aspx

In order to understand the forces underlying the rising importance of caregiving benefits, The Caring Company surveyed 1500 employees and 300 HR leaders. The survey found that:

52% of employers do not measure and thus do not realize the extent to which their employees are burdened by care.

Only 24% of employers responded that caregiving influenced workers’ performance; however,

Over 80% of employees with caregiving responsibilities admitted that caregiving affected their productivity.

Despite these views, employers indicated that behaviors associated with caregiving obligations impede employees’ careers. Employers identified unplanned absences and missed days of work (33%), late arrival at work (28%) and early departure from work (17%) as the top three behaviors that undermine career progression.

The research also found that:

Caregiving contributed greatly to the churn of younger employees: 50% of employees aged 26-35 and 27% of employees aged 18-25 reported that they had already left a job due to caregiving responsibilities.

57% of employees left an organization to take care of a newborn or adopted child, 49% left to care for a sick child, while 43% left to manage a child’s needs. On the other hand, 32% left to take care of an elder family member with daily living needs and almost 25% left to take care of an ill or disabled spouse, partner or extended family member.

The most significant factors that contributed to workers quitting were: the unaffordable costs of paid help (53%), the inability to find trustworthy and qualified paid help (44%) and the inability to meet work responsibilities due to the increased caregiving responsibilities (40%) – all areas where employers could provide guidance, infrastructure or support.

To address the care crisis, the report recommends business leaders should:

View the issue of caregiving through a lens of talent management, rather than exclusively as another potential expensive benefit.

Accept that the tension between work and caregiving expresses itself both financially and culturally within the organization.

Demonstrate commitment both by acknowledging their employees’ care concerns and by investing in innovative solutions.

Conduct a regular care census to identify the magnitude and nature of workforce care needs, evaluate the relevance of its existing benefits package and explore the plausibility of expanding it or developing customized solutions to capture the returns associated with boosting employee retention and productivity.


Todd Deutsch


Harvard Business School’s Project on Managing the Future of Work pursues research that business and policy leaders can put into action to navigate the complex, fast-changing nature of work. The Project’s current research areas focus on six forces that are redefining the nature of work in the United States as well as in many other advanced and emerging economies: Technology trends like automation and artificial intelligence; Contingent workforces and the gig economy; Workforce demographics and the “care economy”; The middle-skills gap and worker investments; Global talent access and utilization; Spatial tensions between leading urban centers and rural areas.


Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 70 open enrollment Executive Education programs and 55 custom programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, HBS faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching to educate leaders who make a difference in the world, shaping the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.