Magazine article Workforce

Elder-Care Issues Shake the Workplace

Magazine article Workforce

Elder-Care Issues Shake the Workplace

Article excerpt

HR should help employees deal with issues surrounding the elder-care problem. With the right planning and resources, workers will be better prepared to manage the responsibility.

There's no mystery to it. It's the way we all respond to aging. We deny that it's going to happen-- to us or to our loved ones. We dismiss the need to talk about it, so we remain private and isolated.

And that's exactly how we respond to elder-care issues in the workplace. No one talks about it, no one plans for it, and no one wants it to happen.

But the numbers won't let us remain complacent for long. Within the next five years, 37 percent of U.S. workers will be more concerned about caring for an elderly relative than a child. Already, the disruption to employees' lives can be devastating. While those with child-care woes may occasionally come to work late or leave early, those responsible for adult care may not be able to get to work at all because these situations are so difficult to anticipate and manage.

"Elder care is already a big issue and a problem that will grow dramatically in the coming decades," says Diane Piktialis, vice president at Boston-based Ceridian Performance Partners, a leading employee-benefits firm. "One of the problems is that it isn't the kind of issue employees talk about much in the workplace. As a society, we don't plan for aging. And as long as our parents are healthy, we deny that we're ever going to face the problem, so they take on crisis proportions."

It's important for HR to understand employees' needs, and provide resources to help them through these painful times. With the right planning and resources in place, employees will be better prepared to handle elder-care responsibilities.

No one plans for these crises. Indeed, lost productivity due to elder-care responsibilities costs companies over $11.4 billion per year, according to The Conference Board, a company based in New York City. In fact, the University of Pennsylvania calculated the loss to business at a whopping $33 billion-for Alzheimer's Disease alone. It's a problem that will only become more severe. Today, there are more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65, and those numbers will increase dramatically by 2010, as American baby boomers (born between the years of 1946 and 1962) reach 65 years old, according to the American Association of Retired People.

Anguish causes loss of productivity.

Elder care can have more devastating effects than child care on an employee's ability to contribute fully. Employers are aware of that, with 94 percent of them believing that the impact of caregiving will be increasingly important over the next five years, according to The Conference Board's study, "Juggling the Demands of Dependent Care." Despite that, only 30 percent offer any elder-care programs (according to Work/Life Benefits, an Orange County, California-- based consulting firm). The concerns are different than child care: the issues are more complicated. Interruptions for aging parents are more sudden, more stressful and more emergency-driven. Child-care interruptions, even if they're emergencies, may not have the same impact. "It's the difference between the babysitter not being available, and your parent having a stroke," points out Deborah Parkinson, research associate for The Conference Board, and author of The Conference Board's report. Moreover, there are such different elder-care needs, ranging from simply having to help parents with the groceries, to actively helping them recover from a serious illness. One Tuscon, Arizona-based employee shares her story:

I was working for General Dynamics [which is now Raytheon, a Missile Systems Company based in Tucson, Arizona. I had a newborn baby, a 10year-old daughter and a 13-year-old stepdaughter when my father-in-law died and my mother-in-law plunged into a dark depression. The incident kicked off what was later diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease. …

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