The Family and Work Institute’s most recent “National Study of the Changing Workforce” showed a startling 42 percent of employees expect to assume elder care duties within the next five years. As a dual-career couple, my husband and I joined the many caregivers who are attempting to balance elder caregiving with career commitments. However, unlike most caregivers, our balancing was greatly eased because I had the luxury of a supportive workplace. I was able to draw upon the “family-friendly flexibility” that university teaching affords, and arrange my teaching and student-advising schedule to coincide with the hours that Katharine attended day care.
Many caregivers do not have this luxury. These workers and their employers are often paying a heavy price. Studies of the impact of the dual roles of elder caregiving and employment have shown that the negative effects of the caregiving are experienced not only by the individual caregiver in terms of stress and physical exhaustion, but also by the workplace itself. The latest research demonstrates that there can be serious workplace consequences when workers must attend to the care of an elderly loved one. According to information from a survey compiled by Work-Family Directions, a Boston consulting firm, findings indicated that employees caring for an elderly relative miss an average of five workdays each year. 1 Even when these caregiving employees are at work, they often experience a number of difficulties, including distract-