Blog | 3 Sep 2020

Beyond COVID-19: Building a Workplace for Caregivers in Asia

This opinion piece forms part of our IMPACTxAsia blog series

Beyond COVID-19: Building a Workplace for Caregivers in Asia

Beyond COVID-19: Building a Workplace for Caregivers in Asia

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenge of juggling work and caregiving. With school closures and lockdowns, many people are busy caring for loved ones while trying to get work done at home. While these disruptions from the pandemic may be temporary, the quest to balance family and professional commitments is here to stay. Even if we take the pandemic out of the equation, there are still many reasons why companies would be well advised to prioritise supporting caregivers in their corporate agenda. In our latest research, we examine the drivers and opportunities in the context of Asia. Here are some highlights:

Challenge of Eldercare

Caring for parents is regarded as an important family responsibility in many parts of Asia. For instance, the concept of filial piety which characterises Chinese societies means that adult children are expected to be the primary caregivers for their elderly family members. This cultural expectation has instilled a strong sense of duty for many to look after their parents in old age.

Against this backdrop, ageing poses a significant challenge to eldercare in Asia, with some of the world’s longest life expectancies found in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. Adding to the difficulty are earlier population control measures such as the one-child policy in China and two-child policy in Singapore. These efforts have left many people shouldering the responsibility of caring for their parents with little or no sibling support.

Increasingly Complex Demands

Geography complicates the picture too. As people move to different cities or countries for work, some of them have to leave behind their children or ageing parents. This is especially true for economic migrants in China and India, where it is common to relocate across the country in search of job opportunities. While many can still stay in touch with their family through video calls or occasional trips, physical absence can bring guilt and anxiety, particularly in times of emergencies. Distance caring comes with its own set of challenges that create a strain on overall wellbeing.

Threat to Employee Wellbeing

While individual circumstances may differ, caregiver stress is universally experienced. This can be caused by various factors, from the knowledge gap about their caregiving responsibilities, to the lack of time and energy to provide for their family. Built up over time and without adequate support, this physical and emotional stress can amount to burnout and hamper productivity in the workplace.

Holding Women Back

In Asia, women do four times as much unpaid care work as men, and this number goes up to nearly ten times in India. When women’s contribution to all types of care around the world is considered, it accounts for US$11 trillion. On the other hand, women are underrepresented at the top of organisations, a finding consistently documented across literature, including our recent study on more than 3,600 companies in ten Asian markets. Care responsibilities are likely a contributing factor. As companies look to improve female representation throughout their organisation, promoting a gender-equal approach to caregiving would be a good starting point.

Recommendations for Companies

As companies learn the lessons from the pandemic, it is imperative that they support their employees in their role as caregivers. In our research we summarise the following recommendations for companies in 4Cs:

  • Comprehend: Identify how caregiving relates to broader agendas such as gender equality and understand employee needs.
  • Connect: Build a support network for caregivers within the organisation and partner with third-party experts to provide employees with resources, coaching support and practical assistance.
  • Care: From policy to practice, companies should consider the diverse needs of employees with care responsibilities. Adapting to these needs would require offering more flexibility and encouraging employees to pay attention to self-care.
  • Champion: Beyond the above steps, companies can examine what more they can do to challenge gender stereotypes around caregiving in Asia.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the call for a more humane response to employees’ challenges has become greater than ever. This could be a catalyst for change. By transforming this newfound awareness into action, companies have the opportunity to create a workplace that not only supports caregivers but promotes work-life harmony for all.


About the Author: Cora Mok, Programme Manager, DIAN at Community Business