Companies are facing a growing yet largely undetected threat to their worker productivity, employee retention, and competitive advantage: the needs of employees who are caregivers.

The aging population, an increasingly female workforce, and the tightest job market in half a century make supporting caregivers a critical talent management issue, according to the new report, “The Caring Company: How Employers Can Cut Costs and Boost Productivity by Helping Employees Manage Caregiving Needs,” by Harvard Business School’s Joseph B. Fuller and Manjari Raman.

With almost three-quarters of employees providing care to a child, parent, or friend, more workers are scaling back, stepping away, or choosing alternative professional opportunities that help them balance these demands.

Companies that ignore this emerging crisis risk losing their hardest-to-find and highest-paid employees — skilled, educated professionals — potentially to competitors that move faster to meet caregivers’ needs. With those employees goes the substantial investment that companies make in recruiting, retention, and training, says Fuller, who co-leads the Managing the Future of Work project. Raman is the project’s program director and senior researcher.

“Companies don’t realize that there are material returns associated with helping these workers,” says Fuller, a professor of management practice. “If I told an executive, ‘You could reduce your turnover of key personnel by 3 percent,’ they would say, ‘Where do I sign?’”

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