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How Employers Can Support Working Caregivers

Eldercare benefits and other caregiver programs are powerful retention tools

Today's boomers may well be called "the Eldercare Generation." As more employees remain in the labor force and their parents live longer, businesses have begun stepping up to help overwhelmed workers better balance their professional and family responsibilities.

Companies are finding eldercare help to be timely “insurance,” because both employers and employees benefit when workers have options that make caregiving more manageable. No wonder eldercare benefits and flexible work arrangements are fast becoming a potent recruiting and retention tool. According to the 2010 MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Care Costs, 20 percent of employers with more than 500 workers offer eldercare referral services, 15 percent offer eldercare leave, 3 percent offer emergency eldercare, 2 percent have subsidized eldercare, and 1 percent paid for eldercare or had an on-site eldercare center.1

An Urgent Issue

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As the population continues to age, more and more adults are finding themselves in caregiving situations. Sixty-six million caregivers make up 29 percent of the U.S. adult population, all of them providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged.2

More than one in six Americans working full- or part-time report assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member, relative or friend.3 Ninety-two percent of working caregivers with intense caregiving responsibilities report major changes in their working patterns.

The average length of caregiving is 4.3 years.

Why the Demand?

It’s simple math: The population is aging; more women are at work; boomers are working past retirement; others are reentering the labor force in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Meanwhile, medical know-how is extending lives, hospital stays are shorter, families are smaller and society is more mobile. Add it all up and the result is fewer family members at home to help needy relatives.

Here’s more evidence:

  • One fifth of American workers are informal caregivers
  • Women provide the majority of informal care to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends and neighbors
  • Between 2010 and 2020, the number of working women age 55-plus will increase to 66 percent, from 60 percent4
  • While caregiving is traditionally associated with women, almost 44 percent percent of today’s caregivers are men5


The Cost to Employers

Companies are also seeing the emotional and physical toll that caregiving takes on its workers. In a 2010 Metlife study on the health care costs of employers, 86 percent of employees caring for adults reported fair to poor health as a result of the caregiving responsibilitites.6 Businesses suffer, too, by having to pay high health insurance costs and in lost productivity. That doesn’t count the promotions or assignments workers turn down that require travel or relocation away from aging relatives.

Businesses that don’t offer benefits or address eldercare wind up paying for them. A 2006 study by the MetLife Market Mature Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving states that U.S. companies pay between $17.1 billion and $33.6 billion annually, depending on the level of caregiving involved, on lost productivity. That equals $2,110 for every full-time worker who cares for an adult. Here’s another way to look at the issue.

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Eldercare costs businesses:

  • $6.6 billion to replace employees (9 percent left work either to take early retirement or quit)
  • Nearly $6.3 billion in workday interruptions (coming in late, leaving early, taking time off during the day or spending work time on eldercare matters)
  • $5.1 billion in absenteeism

What some AARP Best Employers are doing:

  • On-site eldercare — Oakwood Health care
  • Long-term insurance for parents, in-laws, grandparents and grandparents-in-law — Cornell University
  • An elder care office providing guidance, counseling and referrals — University of Kentucky
  • Out of pocket eldercare expenses with tax-free dollars — SSM Health care

What other businesses are doing:

  • Freddie Mac has a free eldercare consultant and access to subsidized aides for a relative up to 20 days.
  • Verizon Wireless offers seminars on eldercare issues and allows full-time workers 80 hours a year in back-up care, 40 hours for part-time and $4/hour for in-home help.
  • At the Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird LLP, workers can donate vacation time to colleagues who have used up theirs to care for family members.

Once again, because it’s so important: Addressing caregiver support issues in the workplace is not just benevolent. It’s smart business. Keep in mind that every $1 companies spend on eldercare benefits reaps a $3 to $14 return.


What Can Employers Do?

Formal support is important, but even more critical is an office culture that 1) is sympathetic to the issues elder caregiving employees face, 2) encourages workers to use company services, and 3) directs employees to external resources for caregivers. This must be a top-down attitude, where supervisors and managers are trained to be sensitive to staff with eldercare issues. (A Society for Human Resource Management survey claims that just 11 percent of respondents train managers on this topic.) You can have policies on the books, but employees don’t use them if they’re afraid they will negatively impact their job.

Your level of response will vary depending on the size of your company and your budget. Providing basic eldercare benefits does not have to be complicated or expensive. For example, AARP is a leading supplier of free caregiving information. You can direct your employees to or have them call AARP Caregiving support: 877-333-5885 (Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.).

Have your HR department compile a list of community resources to hand out to employees. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for material and referrals (counseling services, support groups, booklets, specific programs, lists of eldercare experts). Check with nearby senior centers, hospitals and national sources

Ask workers what kind of eldercare policies would be helpful — flextime, lunchtime workshops and speakers, cash subsidizes for services, paid sick leave or employee leave-sharing, support groups, or access to a geriatric case manager.

Find out what has worked and hasn't worked for others in your field that have eldercare policies.

Consider contracting with a third party to provide eldercare employee services. It could be online or telephone support or for emergency back-up care.

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