Magazine article USA TODAY

Graying America in Search of a Solution

Magazine article USA TODAY

Graying America in Search of a Solution

Article excerpt

"... Employees miss more time from work taking care of their parents... than they do taking care of their children...."

OUR COUNTRY is at a tipping point when it comes to finding solutions for the aging population. Today, employees miss more time from work taking care of their parents (about six days per year) than they do taking care of their children (about four days per year). This is a reality that is not going away any time soon, and it is one that is challenging culture, policies, and productivity in Corporate America.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons, around half of the workforce expects to provide elder care in the next five years, and 42% of U.S. workers provided care for an aging relative in the past five years. With more than 70% of individuals age 65 or older requiring long-term care during their lives, people across generations are finding themselves in a tough spot: balancing the demands of a career with caring for an aging parent or loved one.

Caregiving is a long-term, time-intensive role, and it takes a toll on even the most prepared families. Nearly 82% of caregivers provide care for one other adult, while 15% provide care for two. National Alliance for Caregiving indicates that caregivers of adults have been in that role for at least four years. Those who live with the recipients of care spend upwards of 39 hours a week providing support for daily activities like getting dressed, getting in and out of bed, and feeding-and that does not include the seven out of 10 caregivers who also work full or part time.

It is no surprise that the emotional and physical demands of providing care, in addition to professional responsibilities, put caregivers at risk of mental-health difficulties, such as depression; loss of career-development opportunities; a shrinking social life; and financial problems. Workers who also are caregivers, on average, miss about 18% of a 40-hour work week. Up to 77% report having to miss work in some way to fulfill caregiving duties.

Missing work regularly means lost wages, savings, and retirement contributions, as well as a major decline in overall productivity for employers. In addition, companies face higher turnover, loss of skilled workers, and an increase in disability costs. Chronic absenteeism, workday interruptions, care crises, unpaid leave, reduction in work status from full time to part time--these all are detrimental factors for both employees and companies. According to MetLife, companies lose up to $34,000,000,000 every year because employees must spend time caring for family members.

More than half of working caregivers fear for their job security and prefer not to disclose their family circumstances to supervisors. It is easy to understand why when more than three-quarters of working caregivers must miss work in some way to handle caregiving responsibilities. Companies, on the other hand, might have special programs and assistance to offer employees grappling with stressful caregiving situations --but they cannot help those employees if they do not know who needs the support and resources.

Employers more and more are realizing that investing in helping workers care for dependents makes good business sense and sets companies on a path toward a culture of compassion and increased productivity. What is good for employees is good for companies and the economy. California and Hawaii are known for their generous family-leave benefits, but not all employees benefit from generous workplace policies.

There are several things employers can do immediately and over time to increase productivity and reduce the stress of caregiving on employees: extend protections offered through the Family Medical Leave Act; offer flextime, job sharing, and virtual-work solutions; engage Human Resources to include more family-friendly policies; provide access to support services, such as counseling and skills training; provide discounted back-up home care; include caregiving employees in the planning process to create supportive solutions; initiate self-care programs; develop a system for peer-to-peer employee leave-time donations; and implement a dependent-care assistance program. …

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