A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey reports that during a three-month period in 2011, almost 40 million adults provided some unpaid elder care because of an age-related condition. You can bet that millions of those caregivers also work outside the home.
The survey’s definition of “unpaid elder care” is broad, including companionship or just being available to assist a senior. But it’s undeniable that more and more time is spent on elder care as life expectancies climb. In fact, an average of 20% of the workforce provides up to 20 hours of eldercare weekly. These caregivers are your staff and your organization’s workers.
Types of Elder Care
Elder care is unpaid assistance to a family member with physical, developmental or psychological needs. These needs may be for making medical, housing and financial decisions for a loved one. A caregiver may also be charged with locating skilled services such as day care, nursing, assisted living, hospice and home health care.
In addition to planning and decision making, many workers provide regular, even daily, care for a family member, either in their own homes or at other homes or facilities.
Elder Care Issues in the Workplace
Just as any other family or personal issue, elder care is an additional stressor for workers. These stresses appear as:
- Reduced productivity on the job
- Inability to travel or work overtime
- Worry about advancement opportunities
- Distraction and phone interruptions
- Exhaustion and other health issues
Stressed employees with subpar productivity ultimately affect the organization. Not only does job performance suffer, but employee caregivers may be forced to leave the company or reduce their hours, resulting in retention issues.
Provide Help Now
With awareness of the growing trend in workers who are also caregivers, some organizations are implementing elder care programs. These provide real benefits such as paid time off and subsidies for back-up emergency elder care.
But even without a formal elder care benefit, there are things that your organization can do now within your existing programs to help:
- Allow employees to adopt a flexible schedule such as modified daily hours, a compressed work week or telecommuting
- Allow the use of sick days for caregiving
- Educate employees on the dependent care spending account, if available, for reimbursement of elder care expenses
- Increase manager awareness of elder care needs
- Train supervisors to be aware of and respect those with caregiving responsibilities
- Invite community agencies to participate in an employee seminar to share information on their services and support groups
Even if your organization doesn’t plan on implementing an Elder Care program at this time, using and communicating your existing benefits can go a long way to help those workers struggling with elder care issues.
Enlist Your EAP
Partner with your EAP provider to help with your organization’s elder care education effort. Ask for education and other materials to raise awareness of EAP resource and referral services. Schedule lunchtime seminars to distribute materials and allow for Q&A’s.
Make sure that managers and supervisors understand that providing elder care resources and referrals is part of EAP services so they can assist their staff.
Above all, recognize when an employee’s job performance is suffering because of an elder care responsibility, and make sure that he or she gets the proper referral.
By providing resources to help your employees balance their work and caregiving responsibilities, your organization will benefit from reduced recruiting and retraining costs and more productive workers.