By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a Gallup poll conducted this year, over one in six American workers (between 13% and 22%), is providing care to an elderly or disabled family member, relative, or friend – and the majority of caregivers – unsurprisingly – is female.

The poll also revealed that “Nearly one-third of all working caregivers are in a professional occupation, with another 12% each in service and management roles.” On average, caregivers reported missing 6.6 workdays per year.

As any member of the “sandwich generation” can tell you, becoming a caregiver to an aging parent is often difficult – emotionally, financially, and logistically. But according to Gallup, finding an employer who can support your needs can ease the transition for all parties involved. The survey revealed that most employers were aware of the demands on their caregiving employees, but less than 25% of caregivers receive workplace support that can make a difference in easing their situation. The report explains:

“Most caregivers (71%) indicate that their employer is aware of their caregiving status, but another 28% believe that their employer is unaware. Furthermore, an analysis of knowledge of workplace support programs shows that about one-quarter or less of working caregivers have access to support groups, ask-a-nurse-type services, financial/legal advisors, and assisted living counselors through their respective workplaces.”

The report goes on to say that employees are looking for these perks.

“Ultimately, providing an organized support system for these employees may prove to be a fruitful investment for businesses, given the high percentages of working caregivers who would like to work more if they could. Many working caregivers are likely interested in seeking support in work-life balance to help them meet their responsibilities as caregivers and employees alike, and the accessibility to assistance could potentially go a long way toward greater productivity in the U.S. Workplace.”

In the coming years, companies will have to learn how to support employees who become caretakers to aging loved ones. One way they can prepare is to begin supporting flex work now.

Why Flex Can Help

Sara Sutton Fell, Founder and CEO of FlexJobs, a job search site featuring hand-screened flexible work openings, explained, “We’re definitely hearing that this is a growing situation people have to consider when looking for a job.”

She continued, “Thankfully flexible scheduling and other flexible work arrangements accommodate caretaking well.” For example, Fell said, her own flexible schedule enabled her to fly out right away when her father needed heart surgery a few years ago.

Fell started by explaining that there are many different dimensions to flex work – and employers that plan to provide flex offerings should think carefully about what they need. “Keep in mind that there are many shades of gray,” she explained. “It doesn’t have to be 100% work from home all the time. It could be that a company wants you to come in one or two days per week, or the employer might have a guidelines schedule, and depending on the health of the person you are caring for, that might work for you.”

Fell encouraged companies to think about flex on an individual basis, considering that needs change. Additionally, she said new technology can help caretaker employees a lot – so employers should think carefully before saying “no.”

She explained, “We’re seeing this more and more – technology is providing so much more mobility, and employers don’t realize it. They might not say they provide telework as an option, but their employees are working from home, and they just don’t call it ‘telework.’”