In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I began to hear about leading edge companies that provided workplace resources for elder care. These employers offered support for employees involved caring for elderly parents, and provided caregiving information and resources. Over the past twenty five years, an increasing number of employers have been made aware of the stresses faced by “the sandwich generation” – those caring for their children as well as their elderly parents. Many of these companies are now offering workplace resources for elder care: information, resources and/or sick or vacation day benefits to help those providing care to elderly parents or spouses.
Many CEOs and Human Resource Directors realize that caregivers can experience losses in productivity and morale. Elder care is often exhausting, and employees can experience stress-related health problems, increased absenteeism and turnover. Employers that provide workplace resources for elder care find they make a significant difference in worker productivity and morale, and in the company’s bottom line.
Many employers have had to reduce or modify benefits packages in recent years because of rising healthcare costs and the impact of the economic crisis. However, even in this economic climate, there are many things that employers can do to provide workplace resources for elder care that help those workers who are caring for an elderly parent, spouse or other family member. The National Alliance for Caregiving recently completed a study called Best Practices in Workplace Eldercare, which was presented at the recent Aging in America Conference (Spring 2012). Some of the best practices highlighted in the study cost little or nothing to implement, but provide important supports to employees. These include the following workplace resources for elder care:
- Offering flexible work hours and offsite work options for certain activities;
- Allowing the use of sick leave and vacation days for caregiving;
- Creating employee pools of unused sick leave which can be given to other employees in need of additional days;
- Providing information about elder care issues and helpful resources;
- Helping out with insurance or Medicare paperwork
A significant number of nonprofit employers have developed some of these HR practices over the past fifteen years as a way of increasing non-remunerative benefits (“The Content of Their Character,” Paul Light’s study of the three sectors, Brookings Institution).
MetLife’s study, Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers found that the percentage of adults age 50 and older caring for a parent more than tripled between 1994 and 2008, which indicates a growing trend which will have an increasing impact on the workplace. The study also found that more than one-third of adults leave the workforce or reduce their hours worked once they begin caregiving duties. This can represent a loss in expertise to many employers. Although workplace elder care resources will not remove the stress or significantly alter the trend, the resources could make a difference for many employers and their employees. Carefully developed elder care resources could represent a win-win for employer and employees.
Almost 75% of caregivers are middle aged women who spend an average of 18 hours a week caring for their mothers. The baby boomers of today are likely to spend more years caring for a parent than for their children (“Caregiving to Aging Parents,” by Durant and Christian, Forum on Public Policy). Elder care information, resources and flexible benefits can make a huge difference to these women, many of whom are valuable employees with expert skills and a history that represent significant assets to the employer.
If your employer does not have elder care HR benefits, think about proposing that the organization start by sharing information and resources. You could develop a small library. Print out some fact sheets based on information from the federal Administration on Aging and state Agency on Aging resources, which are excellent. Also check material from AARP, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the National Alliance for Caregiving and the National Family Caregivers Association – for starters. A few carefully develop initiatives can provide elder care resources that make a real difference for employees.
Anne Hays Egan, Workplace Resources for Elder Care
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