Written by our Founder and CEO, the Celebrations Pulse letters aim to engage with our community. By welcoming your ideas and sharing your stories, we want to help you strengthen your relationships with the most important people in your life.
Last November at my suggestion, Harry & David team member Rhonda Klug attended a caregivers’ conference in Virginia. The goal was simple: Find out what our company could do to support the millions of people who provide care to elderly parents, ailing spouses, friends, and other loved ones.
I thought Rhonda, who oversees community affairs at our office in Medford, Oregon, would establish relationships with advocacy groups and gather insights on gifts our customers could use to thank the caregivers in their lives.
Rhonda accomplished her mission and much more.
Within the first day of the conference, she had two revelations. First, she realized that she herself was a caregiver, which is something she had not identified as until she heard the stories from speakers. Second, she learned that businesses could do a lot more to support employees who are trying to balance their full-time jobs with the demands of taking care of another person.
After she returned, Rhonda drafted a memo that summarized all her findings. She set in motion a year-long journey that opened my eyes to the challenges faced by people who work while also providing care to someone at home.
The spotlight on working caregivers
As part of this journey, I sat down with Rhonda and two people she met at the conference, Zack Demopoulos and Selma Archer. Both are advocates who struggled with caring for their parents while trying to hold full-time jobs. They recently published a book, The Working CaregiverWorking Caregivers: The Invisible Employees, to share their stories and advice. (You can listen to our full conversation in this week’s Celebrations Chatter podcast.)
They told me that the U.S. Census Bureau predicts that by 2030 there will be about 73 million caregivers in the workforce, and the number will continue to grow as the population lives longer. In fact, the caregiver population is on track to exceed the number of people who are younger than 18.
Many caregivers give up hobbies, vacations, and free time to help someone who is in need. At the same time, they must keep their professional lives on track to support themselves and their families. They often feel like they’re holding two full-time jobs, and in many cases they are.
There are laws in place to help new moms and dads when a new baby arrives. Zack and Selma point out that most employers offer no similar protection when an elderly parent needs full-time attention. As Zack told me:
Elder care is not planned in most cases, and that can have devastating consequences. Selma and I were drafted into caregiving with full-time jobs, and we were not prepared. We didn’t save money for it, and we just didn’t know what to do. And we’re not the only ones who find themselves in this type of situation.
In some cases, employees, again like Selma and I, were forced to choose between caregiving and working. We made the decision to leave our careers, and that should not have to happen. We are trying to help prevent that difficult choice to other folks who are employees and caregivers.
Raising awareness & finding solutions
The first step to solving the problem is to raise awareness. Rhonda, for instance, didn’t identify as a caregiver even though she took her aging parents to doctors’ appointments, went grocery shopping for them, and helped them in so many other ways. Her realization came only after hearing other caregivers describe what they’ve done for their aging parents.
Rhonda isn’t alone, and advocates say it’s one of the leading contributors to loneliness and stress among caregivers. In many cases, they just don’t have time to advocate for themselves or seek out resources that might help.
Businesses of all sizes can help employees who are overwhelmed by caregiving, but they, too, need to be aware of the issue. They can develop policies and procedures to offer flexibility and accommodations to help their caregiving employees.
Our company’s first step
This month, after nearly a year of working closely with Rhonda, I’m pleased to announce that 1-800-Flowers.com has created CARE, an employee resource group (ERG) for the caregivers in our company. Its mission is to bring together our caregiving employees and their allies to share information and propose ways to help all the caregivers who work at our brands.
Rhonda, who is leading the group, has identified three initial goals:
- Provide resources and tools to help support our caregiving employees across the natural life stages they experience.
- Provide a platform and caregiver-friendly environment that encourages conversations among caregiving employees (and beyond) via networking so they do not feel alone on their caregiving journey.
- Share insights and propose policies that will improve our workplace for caregivers. We also intend to share our leadership and expertise through community engagement with key stakeholder groups like customer groups, vendors, and others.
We know that an employee group for caregivers, by caregivers is just the first step of the journey. I am looking forward to hearing the ideas from Rhonda and other ERG members on how we can better support – and thank – the employees who give so much to help people in need.
All the best,
Holiday rituals and traditions
Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, and the December holidays will be here shortly thereafter. The next month and a half will be filled with family traditions and rituals that you’ll remember for years to come.
For Thanksgiving, I’d like to hear about your favorite family rituals and traditions. It might be the way you and your family prepare a meal or the stories you tell over the table. Perhaps it’s decorating the Christmas tree or all the planning that goes into a ritual at the office like a white elephant party or ugly sweater contest.
Please share some of your favorite Thanksgiving and holiday rituals as well as what they mean to you. I’ll randomly select five stories and send a surprise from our family of brands.