Eldercare: The New Childcare?

The U.S. is getting older. Americans are living longer, and there are more seniors in the workforce. That means more care-giving responsibilities for everyone.

SHRM’s research shows that members feel two key demographic trends are the growth in the number of workers with eldercare responsibilities,  and those with both childcare and eldercare responsibilities.

Statistics tell us that more than 65 million people—29 percent of the U.S. population—provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year, averaging 20-40 hours per week.[1]  According to a MetLife study, the proportion of adult children, mostly boomers, providing personal care or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled during the past 15 years. 

Is eldercare becoming today’s childcare as a key workplace issue? So it seems. The need for eldercare is hitting critical mass now, as the first wave of the baby boom generation reaches 65.

I’ve noticed that caregivers in the workplace are very reluctant to self-identify, or to discuss their responsibilities. But, when a care crisis occurs, they are catapulted into the midst of an event that disrupts family, finances, health, marriage, other relationships—and work.

When those impacts land, work productivity is lost. How much is that costing you? A MetLife Mature Institute study says the annual loss in the U.S. is $33 billion, with every caregiver costing his or her employer an average of $2,110 per year. Costs result from days off, decreased hours, and other actions taken by the employee. 

Turnover and Retention

As early as eight years ago, in a 2003 study, SHRM was starting to see the workplace effects of growing eldercare responsibilities. Absenteeism was the number one problem then, and now. How difficult would it be to replace your workers in the 40-45 age range—among those employees with the most intellectual capital and experience—if they decide to resign or reduce their availability, due to eldercare issues? And the likelihood of that happening grows every year.

Creating a Safe Environment

It’s vital for HR professionals to understand employees’ challenges, and to develop strategies for improving job satisfaction and protecting productivity. As former SHRM President and CEO Susan R. Meisinger, SPHR, said at the time of those early studies, “The increasing need for elder care is inevitable. Employers have an opportunity to either anticipate and manage it in a way that benefits both the employer and employees, or let it smack them in the face a year or so from now, dragging down productivity and increasing turnover as a result. Organizations simply can’t afford to ignore the cost of this reality.” 

Older employees, particularly those with eldercare duties, need to see the support of management and see a safe and accepting environment within the organization's culture.

When management demonstrates an understanding of the value of a healthy family life, employee commitment and loyalty rise. Caregivers encouraged to share their problems with co-workers and supervisors, and thus learn of potential solutions, report greater work/life satisfaction, improved productivity, and less stress.

[1] Care-giving in the United States; National Alliance for Care-giving and AARP; November 2009

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