Elder Care and the Work Place

By Alegre, Mitchell R.; Brice, Gary C. | Management World, Winter 1992 | Go to article overview

Elder Care and the Work Place


Alegre, Mitchell R., Brice, Gary C., Management World


The consequences of caregiving are also being felt in the workplace. Approximately one-third of caregivers are employed. Most of these work fulltime and have been with the same company from six to twelve years. Five to ten percent of the U.S. workforce cares for an elder relative or friend. However, some companies have as many as 46 percent of their employees with caregiving responsibilities.

Elder care takes time, often drains energy, and can create stress that reduces an employee's productivity and contributes to tardiness, absenteeism, and turnover. In one survey of women caregivers, 28 percent had quit their jobs because of the their caregiving duties and another 26 percent of employed caregiving women were considering quitting. These numbers do not bode well for arket increasingly dependent on women, especially with a rapidly aging population.

Other consequences experienced by employed caregivers include loss in overtime pay, missed promotions and job offers, and missed meetings and conferences. Caregivers are absent from work as much as five days annually because of elder care responsibilities. This time is usually taken in vacation days, personal leave, or sick days. In a survey of its employees, American Express found that elder care ranked as a more serious concern than alcoholism, drug abuse, or divorce.

Employers are becoming increasingly aware of employee elder care problems. The New York Business Group on health surveyed their member companies on their perceptions of this issue. Of the 69 companies that responded, 73 percent noted lateness as a work-related employee caregiver problem, 75 percent cited unscheduled days off, 58 percent noted emergency hours off, 67 percent noted absenteeism, 64 percent cited excessive use of the phone for personal calls. Sixty percent noticed stress or physical complaints among caregivers. Forty-six percent of the companies experienced decreased productivity or work quality from employee caregivers and 17 percent saw these employees as having low morale or job dissatisfaction.

Retirement Advisors conducted a survey of companies about elder care. Of the 68 participating companies, 34 percent cited elder care as a notable problem. Only 19.4 percent said elder care was not a problem.

Elder care is not yet a major issue in most corporations. It is estimated that only three percent of all U.s. companies provide elder care benefits. However, employers are beginning to explore the options for what some are calling the employee benefit of the 1990's.

Employers' options for helping employees with elder care responsibilities divide into six basic categories. These are:

* Information dissemination--This might be accomplished through lunchtime seminars, caregiver fairs, informational literature, articles in employee newsletters, a resource room, or an elder care handbook.

* Counseling--This is normally offered through an employee assistance program. Support groups also can be helpful.

* Information and referral--Setting up an elder care hotline or other means to connect caregivers with community services. Having a care manager available to help caregivers identify the needs of their elder charges and locate available resources.

* Adult day care--An on-site adult day care center for elderly dependents or a subsidy or voucher program to assist employees in purchasing elder services. The company might also contribute to community programs for the aging.

* Employee benefits--Dependent care assistance plans, flexible benefit packages, health benefits for employees' parents and in-laws, paid and unpaid leave, being able to take personal days or sick time to tend to el er care responsibilities.

* Employment options--Flex-time, flexplace, part-time employment with benefits.

While most companies are just becoming aware of elder care as a workplace issue, a number of major corporations have been leading the way in addressing this concern.

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