family caregiver at workOver the summer, I rented a workspace in a CPA office. I was struck by the number of conversations among co-workers relative to the care of aging parents. Increasingly, family caregivers are not only taking care of children, they are also taking care of aging relatives.

The numbers are striking. One in four workers are family caregivers. According to AARP, 42% of workers have provided care for an aging relative or friend in the past five years. About half of the workforce expects to be providing eldercare in the next five years. This means that most workplaces have employees who support or will support an aging person. Because of the growing population of older adults, this trend is not likely to change. In fact, the number of workers expected to provide eldercare is likely to grow, and grow sharply.

This is one of the mega trends that is already affecting the workplace. Businesses lose an estimated $33.6 billion in productivity each year because of caregiving issues.  As our population ages, this loss of productivity will continue to grow. 

Just like I noticed at the CPA office, there is increased awareness of the burden faced by employees who are family caregivers. Everyone is impacted by senior care issues, including management.

Why Caregiving Matters?

First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. Families are the ultimate safety net. Family caregivers do it out of love, a sense of duty and respect for the elderly in their lives.

Family caregivers provided unpaid care and save some real taxpayer dollars. It is estimated that family caregivers provide about $37,000 of uncompensated care every year.

This prompted me to think about what employers can do to help their employee caregivers.

Tiffany Speas, CFO at the Peninsula Area Agency on Aging (PAA), is a professional in the aging field. She was a caregiver for her grandmother during the last 2 years of her life. Using information from AARP, Tiffany shares some practical tips on what employers can do to support the caregivers in their workforce.

1. Embrace caregiving as the new normal

Family caregivers tend to be quiet about their responsibilities. The biggest issue for a caregiver is how to take care of their loved ones and juggle their job responsibilities. For years, employers have focused their attention on helping parents balance work and life with children. A similar approach is now required for supporting employees as caregivers of seniors. This can be particularly difficult because many elder caregivers are at the peak of their professional career. Often they are the senior managers and technical experts. Their knowledge and expertise are not easily matched. Their absence creates a real void, especially in small businesses.

2. Be Flexible

Diane Carter, CPA cared for 4 years for her husband diagnosed with ALS. At the time, she had two children still living at home and was working full-time as the Comptroller of a mid-size business. Her plate was full. Diane had a great network of family and friends and a very supportive employer. “Taking time off was never a problem,” remembers Diane. “My boss never questioned my time off requests. I worked hard to make sure I wasn’t letting them down.” It’s the main reason she was able to keep working and care for her husband during those difficult years.

Caregivers juggle a lot. “If you want to be supportive, accommodate the juggling,” says Tiffany Speas.  Allowing for time off is one aspect of flexibility. Flexibility can also mean work schedule adjustments like a compressed workweek. Flexible work arrangements with a remote work component is also popular. Collaborative technology, emails and remote access to company networks enable a lot of productive remote work arrangements.

Flexibility is beneficial to employers. Not only being flexible with work schedule helps workers manage their lives, but also make it more likely they will stay. According to MetLife, 87% of workers whose employers enable them to manage life in and outside of work are satisfied with their present status.

3. Care for Caregivers

Many family caregivers are so focused on their responsibilities to others, they forget to take care of themselves. Check in with the caregivers in your workforce to see how their balancing act is working or taking a toll on them.

There are many things well-meaning colleagues say to caregivers. “Just let me know if you need anything” is not helpful to caregivers, says Tiffany Speas. Instead, co-workers who want to help should offer specific support like “Can I make a grocery run for you?”  or prepare a meal to share.

The challenges of balancing work and family responsibilities are here to stay. It’s time to look at solutions your organization can develop to accommodate their needs while keeping the business running. Start small, listen to the caregivers, learn and adjust. Making a start is what’s required at this time.

For more information on how to develop a caregiver support program, contact the Peninsula Agency on Aging or your Area Agency on Aging.