WORK + FAMILY can work. Here’s how. Eldercare

Published: 08/01/2022

How to best attract, support and retain employees who are working parents (6/6): Eldercare

While myTamarin started with the focus on childcare, we understand that balancing work and family is not just about young children. Which is why we’ve reviewed best practises and policies at progressive employers who support employees with eldercare needs.

For employees, you can quickly see where the best place to develop your career is. For employers, you can see what improvements you can make to get your recruitment and retention to best in class.


Challenges facing working people providing eldercare

In the UK, average life expectancy has increased from 75 to 81 over the last 30 years, and it is forecast to increase to 85 by 2040. There’s an age wave coming and it’s going to be one of the biggest challenges working people have had to face for quite some time.

1 in 7 employees, that’s 4.87 million employees in the UK, are currently balancing their jobs with eldercare responsibilities. This figure is predicted to rise to 1 in 6 employees by 2040 due to the ageing population and the increased number of women in the workforce.

Up until very recently, the majority of working people only had child care responsibilities. But with women delaying starting a family, and with humans living longer than ever before, the number of older adults is increasing rapidly - and with it the number of workers with eldercare responsibilities is also rising.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) predicts the two growing demographic trends to impact the workplace imminently include:

  • Employees with eldercare responsibilities;
  • And employees with the “sandwich” responsibilities of both childcare and eldercare.

This isn’t a situation that many of us will have encountered before - it’s a relatively new concept across the board, but it’s one that will have a detrimental impact on productivity at work if employers don’t acknowledge it, and put in place policies to support workers with eldercare responsibilities. 

As we start 2022, the key challenges working people who provide eldercare face include:

Lack of awareness

Most people are familiar with the undulating demands of childcare, and most parents are open to discussing their children and their childcare needs. (Although not fully openly because of fear of repercussions, but still.) However, according to Neal et al. (1999) both men and women reported greater levels of comfort talking about their childcare responsibilities than their eldercare responsibilities at work. And employed elder caregivers reported actively refraining from discussing the needs of their elderly relatives, or were oblivious to eldercare issues, until a crisis occured. 

Traditional sources of care unavailable

It’s a sad truth but traditionally the responsibility for caregiving has fallen on women, both childcare and eldercare. With more women than ever before in the workplace, these traditional sources of care aren’t as readily available. 

Additionally, the geographic mobility of families has increased. It’s more common than it has ever been for adult children to live at a distance from their elders who need care. Meaning that when care is required, it has to be in the form of long-distance caregiving.

Life disruption

If you’ve ever had to deal with a crisis of any sort, you’ll know how all-consuming it can be. So much so it can often disrupt everything it comes into contact with - personal wellbeing, family life, finances, physical and mental health, marriages etc. Not to mention the effect it has on work, including: 

  • Lost time from work
  • Reduced productivity
  • Unpaid leaves of absence
  • Lost career opportunities
  • Early retirement
  • Decreased lifetime earnings

Research links elder caregiver stress to an increased risk of depression and anxiety, sleeplessness, weight gain or loss, diminished immunity, and a greater incidence of hospitalisation. 

Cost implications

Eldercare is not cheap. The burden of it is routinely taken on by family and friends who provide informal care to substitute for formal health care services. In fact, more than 60% of carers are using their own income and savings to cover the cost of eldercare.

Lack of government support 

There is currently very limited support in place to aid employees with eldercare responsibilities, from the government. And with the combination of an ageing workforce and a declining birth rate, it’s unlikely that additional outside support for the growing older population will be forthcoming, and if it is, it will be very limited.

Resistance

An ageing parent may be unwilling to accept help because they are afraid of losing their independence, and that can make a big impact on an employee's work.

Caregiver match

It’s hard enough to provide a caregiver match in childcare, it’s even harder with elder care. Personalities and other subjective criteria become more relevant than objective criteria such a specific expertise and availability, making a search for the right carer quite complex.

End of life care

Not only is it hard to find good quality end of life care, it’s also a really emotionally fraught time for all involved.

Family dynamics 

Family dynamics are complicated at the best of times. Trying to get the whole family on the same page when it comes to eldercare is no small feat.


Challenges of employers with employees who have caregiving responsibilities

Eldercare challenges don’t just affect employees, they have ramifications for employers too:

Increased employee attrition

Research shows that approximately 2 million people in the UK have already reduced their working hours to provide eldercare for an elderly dependent, with 2.6 million people giving up work altogether to be full time elder caregivers. 

Loss of intellectual capital

9% of elder caregivers quit their jobs of their own choosing due to these eldercare issues. Typically, these are employees aged 40-45+ workers, i.e. people with the most intellectual capital and experience.

Reduced D&I in the workplace

Women in particular are typically the ones who reduce their working hours and juggle work with eldercare and therefore are more likely to see negative financial and/or career implications. But it is not just women who are vulnerable to negative work-related consequences of being a working elder caregiver, other groups include ethnic minorities, and LGBTQ+. Which in turn has a negative impact on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Decreased employee productivity 

With eldercare, employee attention is redirected to personal matters and away from work, and as a result, employee productivity decreases. One survey suggests a working caregiver will spend approximately 2 hours per day on the phone coordinating care between a home care agency and medical professionals.

And according to the Society for Human Resource Management's Eldercare Survey, for employers with employees who have eldercare responsibilities, absenteeism is the number one problem among employees having caregiving responsibilities. 

Increased HR costs

Research by MetLife Mature Institute, shows the cost implication to businesses for lost productivity at work due to absenteeism, partial absenteeism and workday interruptions as a result of employees providing elder care are up to $34 billion annually. These are also costs associated with having to replace employees who burn out or terminate to provide eldercare full time.

Then there’s management-administrative costs which include supervisory costs related to the time and impact of additional stress on managers and supervisors who themselves aren’t equipped to manage the personnel productivity issues related to workers' elder caregiver responsibilities.

There’s also increased health care costs including mental health - because more elder caregivers end up under a doctor’s care than employees who don’t, for treatment for anxiety and depression.

Finally, it’s not just the employee who misses out when they prioritise eldercare over promotions -  according to John Paul Marosy, President of Bringing Elder Care Home, companies incur costs when caregivers turn down promotions, transfers or extra projects,  when they miss meetings, or can’t attend business trips, or take part in career development and education.


How can employers meet the needs of working caregivers?

Flexibility

Working caregivers routinely note the importance of both flexible work hours and being able to take unscheduled time off when needed to handle elder caregiving responsibilities.

Information and assistance

Most elder caregivers have had little or no previous experience of providing care to an elder, or with negotiating the ageing services system. Providing information or resources for employees navigating this new space about caregiving, health conditions, and where to turn for help, can be incredibly beneficial for working caregivers. 

Providing access to professional expertise for assessing the elder’s needs, or providing referrals and advice to the caregiver as well as determining eligibility and payment options for outsourcing eldercare, and packaging together the needed services, can also be a valuable resource for employees. 

Emotional support

Just like childcare, normalising the need for eldercare and creating a workplace culture that provides emotional support from co-workers and supervisors in the workplace can go a long way to helping employees feel valued and remain loyal. 

Support from management is crucial. The ability for employees to share their eldercare struggles with managers is essential. Research repeatedly shows that when management demonstrates an understanding of the value of a healthy family life, it can increase employee commitment. 

Tangible support

Eldercare isn’t simply a case of finding someone to watch an elder while the adult continues to work. It can mean taking charge of the elder’s legal, financial, and health insurance matters and all the paperwork associated with these things - all of which is a daunting task. 

Providing assistance or guidance to help a caregiver secure and complete legal forms for durable power of attorney, wills, reverse mortgages, etc that are frustrating and time-consuming, can be an enormous help. 


Corporate eldercare solutions

Eldercare solutions in the workplace are not very common (yet). 

But the benefits for offering corporate eldercare solutions can be enormous:

  • Increase in employee loyalty, morale, retention and commitment
  • Increase in new candidate applications
  • Reduction in employee turnover
  • Increase in employee productivity

It’s a no-brainer: organisations that offer a variety of workplace eldercare support to help their employees manage their work and family responsibilities are employers of choice. 

From simply offering flexible work schedules, the opportunity to job share, leave policies that account for eldercare responsibilities, flexible benefits plans that support eldercare can be an extremely attractive prospect to working caregivers.


Levels of eldercare support provided by progressive employers

The next generation of formal elder care programmes strategically address key needs of working caregivers, rather than relying solely upon resource and referral models. 

They offer enhanced information and resources from geriatric care professionals, they provide support and information on legal and financial matters, and they provide assistance with insurance paperwork. 

When you’re considering elder care support for your employees, there are three types that can be offered to working caregivers:

  1. Policies. These provide guidelines for employees who have family care responsibilities, outlining how employees are expected to deal with certain situations, such as when, where and how work is to be performed.
  2. Benefits and services, including insurance that protects against loss of earnings, that pays medical expenses associated with illness, injury, or other health care needs, or provides paid time off for personal needs i.e. responding to an eldercare crisis. Benefits may also include provision of full or partial payment for services i.e. legal, financial, educational, or dependent-care services. Employers can put in place provision of information and referral, education, case management, or direct services for elders. 
  3. Finally, employers can pay for (some) of the elder care costs, including back up elder care for those days when the primary care provision falls through.


What are progressive employers doing to help?

  • Santander launched a support scheme in 2012 to help employees with caring responsibilities. 
  • JP Morgan introduced an eldercare element to its benefits scheme in February 2015.
  • Chicago-based international law firm McDermott Will & Emery and UK based Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale recently added eldercare benefits for their employees.
  • Johnson & Johnson offers its caregiving program to employees free of charge in order to encourage participation. 
  • Prudential offers adult care benefits including 200 hours of free backup dependent care for adults, per employee. 


Conclusion

The challenges of eldercare and work are only just being realised. With an ageing population and fewer births, the problem is only going to get worse. Employers need to offer more support to working caregivers or face the consequences of top talent leaving the workplace to care for elderly relatives. 

But that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. 

While the majority of research on the effects of elder caregiving on working people focuses on the negative consequences of juggling caregiving with full time work, it’s not all doom and gloom. Like working parents, so many employees report that work actually provides them respite from caregiving alongside financial security, as well as an enhanced sense of competence.

To find out more about how myTamarin can support your organisation balance work and family, get in touch with our team today.

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