Study Highlights Best Practices in Workplace Elder Care Programs

News Updates

“We know caregiving is associated with loss of retention, reduced productivity and higher stress,” said Drew Holzapfel, director of global commercial development at Pfizer Inc. This impacts caregivers’ wages, Social Security and pension benefits over the course of their career at a time when they need to be saving for their own retirement, he explained. Additionally, it impacts organizations as they experience a loss of talent.

On a positive note, “Employers can have a powerful and meaningful impact on caregivers,” Holzapfel added, pointing to the new study, Best Practices in Workplace Eldercare, which the National Alliance for Caregiving conducted for the coalition Respect a Caregivers Time (ReACT). The study, highlighting successful elder care programs at 17 U.S. employers, was released March 29, 2012, at the “Aging in America” conference in Washington, D.C., where Holzapfel was among the speakers.

Responding to the needs of employees who have caregiving responsibilities does not have to be expensive or elaborate, the study noted. Best practices include offering a flex-time policy to help workers struggling to balance work and caregiving duties and allowing employees to use sick days and vacation days for caregiving. One example cited was the Family Caregiving Network that employees at Kimberly Clark organized and managed on a volunteer basis to provide information to family caregivers and increase awareness on the part of managers about employees with caregiving responsibilities.

Other practices highlighted in the study include:

  • Discounted backup home care for emergencies. The discounted rate for in-home care was $4 to $6 per hour, and the number of hours of care available at the subsidized rate varied by employer.
  • Help with insurance paperwork and information about Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance policies.
  • Paid time off and flexible approaches to time off.
  • Elder care resource and referral services, including geriatric care management services. Some employers provided this through employee assistance programs.

Suggestions for Employers

The study found that while employers felt that employee feedback regarding their program is important, once their program was established, few conducted employee surveys other than consumer-satisfaction polls. Additionally, few conducted a needs assessment before establishing a program or modifying it.

The report included the following suggestions to employers:

  • Understand your workforce and their needs.
  • Make an elder care program or policy available to all employees, not one category of employee.
  • Train supervisors and managers about elder care.
  • Educate employees about the caregiving process and ways in which the employer’s program can support their goal of continuing to be a family caregiver and a productive worker.
  • Consider programs that help employees plan for caregiving responsibilities.

Executives might not know how much elder care issues impact their employees, Holzapfel said, but providing benefits to help employees deal with these issues “seems like the right thing to do.”

Retention Issue

More than one-third of adults leave the workforce or reduce their hours worked once they begin caregiving duties, and women are more likely than men to quit their jobs rather than reduce their hours, according to conference speakers who cited MetLife's study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers, released in June 2011.

The percentage of adults age 50 and older who are caring for a parent more than tripled from 1994 through 2008, and the need for flexible workplaces and policies that benefit caregivers likely will grow as they approach their own retirement, according to the MetLife study. In 2008, 17 percent of men and 29 percent of women provided basic care to their parents. In 1994, only 3 percent of men and 9 percent of women provided parental basic care, defined as helping with personal tasks such as dressing, feeding and bathing.

While the percentage of working caregivers is increasing, Holzapfel noted that the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) 2011 Employee Benefits survey report showed a steady decrease in the proportion of U.S. employers with elder care programs following the 2008 recession. The survey of SHRM members found that in 2011:

  • Only 1 percent of their employers subsidized the cost of elder care, down from 4 percent in 2008.
  • Just 2 percent offered access to elder care backup services, down from 4 percent in 2007.
  • 9 percent offered elder care referrals, down from 22 percent in 2007.
  • 11 percent offered care leave above federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, and 11 percent offered leave above state family leave; down from 16 percent and 14 percent, respectively, in 2007.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.  To read the original article, please click here.