Magazine article Personnel

Has Anybody Seen a Cost/benefit Analysis?

Magazine article Personnel

Has Anybody Seen a Cost/benefit Analysis?

Article excerpt


When US WEST's Dee Vallinga represented management in negotiations with the company's unions in 1987, she brought an eldercare program to the table. What she didn't bring was a needs assessment or a cost/benefit analysis.

Instead, Vallinga spoke from experience.

"It had personally affected me," recalled Vallinga, who at the time was an HR manager based in Inglewood, Colo. "My mother died in 1974, and so my father was living alone in South Dakota. He eventually remarried, but it didn't mean I didn't worry. His health wasn't the best, and there were a lot of legal issues that had to be taken care of."

US WEST's unions accepted the benefit, and soon after, Vallinga took over as director of dependent care for the company.

Such is the unusual route by which eldercare programs enter the workplace. Most employee benefits initiatives are driven by seemingly endless studies to establish clear-cut business reasons for a new program. In contrast, eldercare often is championed by HR managers who have experienced eldercare concerns of their own. Even more striking, senior management is likely to approve such programs based not on statistics, but on personal experience and anecdotal evidence. As a result, eldercare authorities say, HR is enjoying an unusually free hand to develop eldercare responses outside the usual bureaucratic process.

EAP providers who have dealt with eldercare cases say senior management's interest comes from the fact that, unlike most other human resources issues, eldercare is as likely to affect the CEO as the mailroom clerk.

To understand why, compare eldercare and childcare. Children grow up, a process the employee/parent finds satisfying. Thus, some EAP providers say, childcare is an issue largely of time, a commodity which senior managers and their hefty paychecks can easily buy from daycare centers. Since the issue rarely causes them undue hardship, senior executives often demand proof that the problem affects others - and the workplace - before they approve a childcare program.

In contrast, elders are regressing. Watching a parent's body and mind decay is an emotionally traumatic experience from which even a CEO's paycheck can't buy relief. In some cases, that has inspired senior management itself to initiate an eldercare program.

"There is so much guilt involved," said Harold Schmitz of Harold Schmitz & Associates, an EAP provider based in New York City. "I've found that eldercare programs often are fueled by senior executives who experience a difficult time placing an elderly parent in an adult facility. …

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