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Whole-Family Care Is Here - Is Your Organization Ready?

Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan on May 16, 2017 10:30 AM

Have you heard the term, “Whole-Family Care” yet?

It’s an HR concept that is fast-gaining traction since its introduction in the strategy+business article, “HR’s New Challenge: Whole-Family Care.”

Published in April 2017, it calls for stronger recognition of the care crisis that is reaching “perfect storm” proportions in the U.S. – and around the world – impacting our employees, organizational success, and our larger economies more than ever before.  

Whole-Family Care is a response to this crisis.  And its effectiveness relies on three core areas.   

Here’s a snapshot of the emerging concept and why it matters, along with some of our own practical tips to help HR professionals implement and define this movement.

Defining Whole-Family Care: Comprehensive care options, coordinated by employers
When you hear Whole-Family Care, you might think of the concept of “whole health” or “whole-person care” that’s been developing in healthcare for years.  It’s an approach that seeks to better address all aspects of a person’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing through a range of care options.  It’s done through a coordinated and comprehensive plan to treat, heal and prevent. 

Whole-Family Care is built on similar principles. As authors Keith Fengler, Joseph Fuller and Scott Olsen write, “it’s an integrated program that helps employees meet the needs of their family in a comprehensive, seamless manner.”

In the end, it strives to give employees the assurance that their loved ones will be receiving the right care when they need it, and that the employer will take greater responsibility in assembling, coordinating and managing those resources for them.   

The growing crisis: Absenteeism, presenteeism, higher turnover and lower productivity
Dramatic demographic shifts that include populations living longer while rates of illness and disease increase, and social dynamics where more women, traditionally charged with being primary caregivers, are returning and entering the workforce in higher numbers than previous generations, are requiring more employees than ever before to find care solutions for their extended families.

At the same time,  the number of skilled caregivers for both children and seniors is at an all-time shortage. And this imbalance is expected to grow even larger over the next decade.

The net effect is U.S. businesses are forgoing an estimated $33.6 billion in lost productivity from full-time employees due to their caregiving responsibilities. And employees are suffering higher levels of stress, depression and burnout, resulting in increased absenteeism and struggles with presenteeism.

Simply put, employees aren’t getting the support they need to better focus at work, and employers aren’t getting the most out of their talent.

RELATED: Big Data: Building the Case for Employer-Provided Care Benefits

Employers have made some strides in care programs. For years, they’ve pieced together solutions through increased flexibility, more generous PTO, work-life integration programs, and even subsidized solutions for both child care and senior care. But as the authors predict, until these solutions come together under the umbrella of an integrated, coordinated and preventive Whole-Family Care program, it’s not going to be enough to stop the growing crisis.

The solution:  Tailored benefits, better coordination and communication, and utilization of technology
Fengler, Fuller and Olsen break down the Whole-Family Care solution to three key areas: tailored benefits, better coordination and communication, and the utilization of technology.

Here’s a snapshot of each component, and some practical tips for getting started.  

Tailored Benefits:
Design a benefits program that goes beyond a competitive salary and health insurance, and the latest fun perks. Tailor your family care benefits to meet the current needs of your employee demographic, while anticipating the needs that will arise in the future.

Where to start:

  1. Know your employee demographics. Work with your benefits partners to supplement your own data and gain a clearer understanding of your workplace population.  Identify and become experts in the life stages they are in, as well as the stages you anticipate they will enter in their tenure at your organization.
  2. Survey your employees directly about the individual care challenges and needs they face using a simple online tool like SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo or Google Forms.
  3. Supplement the data and responses you gather with qualitative feedback. Leave the office door open for impromptu, in-person feedback. Or, solicit less formal feedback via email, or through chat and messaging tools like Skype and Slack.
  4. Evaluate your PTO, work-life and flexibility programs. Are you giving enough and are you incenting employees to use these benefits?
  5. Make necessary changes to the care programs you offer. Are you providing your employees with the comprehensive child care, backup care and senior care solutions they need, as well as access to experts who can help guide them?

Better Coordination and Communication:
Organizations need to evaluate how they can improve coordination of care services, supported by more effective communication between internal and external stakeholders, as well as directly with employees. 

Where to start:

  1. Continue to open and sustain the dialogue about the care crisis, and change the nature of the conversation with your employees from reactive to proactive.
  2. Enlist your leaders to not only talk about the care crisis and how your organization is addressing it, but also encourage them to lead by example in the choices they make at work, be it in using PTO, or demonstrating greater work-life balance.
  3. Evaluate your individual HR role and the current structure of your HR team. Question as individuals, as a department, and as an organization, how you can better coordinate care solutions between multiple stakeholders. Can new care service processes be put in place, and can efforts be centralized through one point of contact who can guide your employees through all their care needs? Or as Fengler, Fuller and Olsen put it, though a primary “HR Sherpa.”
  4. Educate your supervisors, managers and leaders about the care services you offer and train them to be care ambassadors to help identify employee needs and point them in the right direction.
  5. Communicate your care programs online through your intranet or HR site, via email, in-person meetings, webinars and seminars. Consider using video and audio recordings to spread the word about benefits through short, informative broadcasts.

RELATED: The Link Between Better Benefits Communication and Employee Performance

Technology will play a critical role in helping employers implement and sustain successful Whole-Family Care programs in their organizations. Fengler, Fuller and Olsen provide a great list of ideas that help support both loved ones and caregivers, from personal emergency response systems to programmable medication alerts to child care apps. Here are a few more ways to utilize technology to support your Whole-Health Care program.

Where to start:

  1. Evaluate the state of your technology for supporting remote and flexible work arrangements at your organization. Do your current systems enable employees to work as effectively as possible from home? Work with IT to make necessary changes.
  2. Utilize a web conferencing platform to include ALL employees in key HR meetings and announcements, especially those that offer information and support for care services.
  3. Provide access to a library of video or audio recordings of all care-related meetings. Remember to keep the announcements or messages clear and to the point.
  4. Implement technologies that will boost your employees’ overall wellness and wellbeing, including wearables, gamification strategies and free apps. TalentCulture has a great list of ideas related to linking technology and workplace wellness, and Parenting magazine has assembled a comprehensive list – most of them free - of helpful apps for parents.
  5. Let your employees be your guide. Ask what technologies they’re using and find most helpful, and if there are any social media groups they look to for support in their caregiver roles.

While these authors have made the case for and provided a framework to create a Whole-Family Care program, the solution and the success you achieve will be unique to your organization.  If you respond to the specific care needs of your employee population, while staying aligned with your employer’s mission, budget and goals, your ROI will be significant.

More important, your employees will know they are getting the very best care for their loved ones, while working for an organization that cares first and foremost, for them.  

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Heidi Erdmann-Sullivan

As Director, Sales and Marketing at, Heidi is responsible for developing innovative, results-driven programs for Care@Work – a consumer-centered portfolio of family care for employers and their diverse workforce. Passionate about helping HR professionals improve the lives of their employees, Heidi follows and writes about the top trends and research impacting both employees and employers in the workplace, including the future of work, consumerism and HR, building employer brands, pay equity and paid leave policy, and company culture. Prior to joining, Heidi led marketing teams at a variety of technology companies including Constant Contact. She lives north of Boston with her husband Brian and their “daughter” Lexi – a 10 lb. Shih-Tzu therapy dog.