Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Assessing Employees' Emerging Elder Care Needs and Reactions to Dependent Care Benefits

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Assessing Employees' Emerging Elder Care Needs and Reactions to Dependent Care Benefits

Article excerpt

Background on the Need for Elder Care Assistance

Elder care, which is employer assistance with managing care for elderly dependents, is predicted to be the pioneering benefit of the 1990's.(1) The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging predicts that by the year 2010 there will be 22 elderly persons per 100 persons of working age, and that the figure will increase to 38 elderly per 100 working age persons by the year 2050.(2) Currently, only 22% of people over 85 are in nursing homes(3) and for every nursing home inhabitant, it is estimated that there are at least two others with an equivalent level of disability that are not institutionalized(4). Approximately, 80% of their noninstitutional care is provided by family members(5). This care can lead to emotional, physical and financial strain of the caregivers, many of whom are employed.(6) A National long-Term Care Survey by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 31% of all caregivers were employed outside of the home and that this figure is expected to rapidly grow.(7) While it might seem reasonable to assume that working caregivers would spend less time on elder care than those who are not working, studies have indicated that employment status is unrelated to the overall amount of help provided to elderly persons.(8) Surveys have reported that, on average, employees who provide elder care assistance spend from 6-10 hours per week(9) to as much as four hours per day, seven days a week(10).

A survey of personnel executives revealed that while 70% believed that some percentage of their employees were negatively affected by elder care at work, most of these firms were just beginning to explore providing elder care assistance.(11) Given that the growth in the number of employees with elderly dependents is expected to continue well into the next century, it is important for employers to understand the implications of employees' elder care responsibilities and prepare for the changing benefits needs of their work forces. The purpose of this article is 1) to share highlights from a recent survey exploring employee elder care needs and preferences for employer assistance, 2) to describe the reactions of employees to two currently adopted benefits, a dependent care spending account and the leave of absence program, and 3) give examples of the types of information an organization could collect to conduct an elder care needs assessment.

How Workforce Demographics Relate to Elder Care Needs and Work Effectiveness

As of result of elder care responsibilities, one national study reported that 29% of working caregivers had to rearrange work schedules, 21% reduced work hours, 19% took time off without pay, and 9% of the respondents had quit work to become a caregiver.(12) Another study reported the following employee problems related to elder care: absenteeism, tardiness, visible signs of stress, excessive phone calls, unavailability for overtime work, requests for reduced hours, turnover, health problems, decreased quality of work and increased work accidents.(13)

We have found that an employee's demographic background such as gender, household employment configuration, form of adult dependent care used, and the elderly person's living arrangements may help explain which employee groups are most likely to be in need of elder care assistance. As Figure 1 shows, these demographic variables are related to the extent to which an employee will have problems with elder care arrangements, their attitudes and absenteeism, and preferences for assistance. Prior to adopting elder care benefits, it is advisable for an organization to conduct a needs assessment survey that collects information on these background variables. The decision to implement a particular elder care option should depend not only on the program's direct costs, but also on the anticipated level of acceptance by management and employees and the extent to which employees have needs and interests that will be addressed by the program. …

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