Supporting caregivers in the workplace

By Madonna Gallo

When Jodi Montgomery was a teenager, she promised her mother that she would never be alone.

Years later, after her stepfather passed away, Jodi relocated from her home in Ajax to a more senior-friendly bungalow in Lindsay and invited her mom to come and live with her.

“My mom is still pretty independent but she’s getting older and has some mobility issues that make it hard for her to do some of the basic, everyday activities,” says Jodi, who recently left the newspaper business and started her second career as a home support worker at Saint Elizabeth Health Care.

“I want to be there for her, the way she was there for me.”

Today, there are more than eight million family caregivers in Canada – and like Jodi, 75% of them are in the workforce. Without proper supports, caregivers can experience a litany of challenges, ranging from financial strain and employment conflicts, to impacts on personal health and wellbeing.

Caregivers who miss time at work can have reduced earnings, lower retirement income and miss out on promotions, while organizations lose the benefit of skilled workers who leave their jobs to provide care. Indeed, lost productivity as a result of caregiving costs the Canadian economy an estimated $1.3 billion annually.

“It’s a huge societal issue and the need for workplace supports is essential,” says Harvey Foote, senior vice president of people at Saint Elizabeth. “Studies show that more and more caregivers are in distress, yet many do not know how to reach out and find the help they need.”

In 2015, Saint Elizabeth launched Elizz, a new brand dedicated to the wellbeing of family caregivers. In the first year since launch, Elizz received close to 600,000 visitors to its DIY website,, and supported thousands of caregivers with in-home health care and virtual services.

With an emphasis on proactive supports for caregiver wellness, Saint Elizabeth is also working to meet the unique and diverse needs of caregivers in the workplace. Informed by the latest research and direct input from employees, the Elizz 5 LifeStages of Caregiving – Employee Program has five key components:  a personalized LifeStage assessment and action plan; customized resources; expert caregiver coaching; a community network; and advanced data analytics.

The program helps caregivers like Jodi feel more in control, prepared and productive – 94% of participants report that it is valuable to them as a caregiver.

“There’s so much great information on there,” says Jodi. “It really helps you to feel supported, knowing there is a place to go when you have questions or concerns.”

More than 1,000 Saint Elizabeth employees from across Canada have already signed onto the digital platform, primarily through their smartphones and other mobile devices. All staff have the option to create an anonymous username and password, which gives them unlimited access to the online resources.

“With the virtual nature of our workforce, we knew we had to create something that was easy to use and available around the clock,” says Harvey Foote. “This is a great example of HR innovation and a next-generation employee benefit.”

For her part, Jodi is thankful to have all the help she can get.

“It’s tough, working and being a caregiver at the same time,” she says. “Sometimes I feel guilty about leaving Mom but then I love my job and knowing that I can come home to her at the end of the day.”

Madonna Gallo is head of public voice at Saint Elizabeth and Elizz.