President Obama got it half right earlier this year, when he laid out his plans for strengthening support for working families by improving access to child care and paid leave in the United States.
“It’s time to stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like that national economic priority that it is for all of us,” the President said during his State of the Union Address. He talked about making child care more affordable with a “Second Earner Credit” and modernizing paid parental and sick leave policies for federal employees with new children.
What he didn’t talk about was how senior care shouldn’t be treated as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and should be treated like a national economic priority. And that’s a conversation we need to be having – not just for the sake of supporting working families, but to avert a potential corporate crisis.
The Atlantic just posted a piece online with the headline “America’s Aging Population Is Bad News for Women’s Careers,” and a subhead featuring the caveat, “Unless the U.S. can put policies in place to support family caretakers.” Last spring, The Economist published a piece with some startling statics around old-age dependency ratios. And a quick Google search reveals ominous reports warning of a “Silver Tsunami” began swelling back in 2011.
Once you get past the alarmist headlines and dig into the data, two things should become clear:
- Our population is rapidly aging
- This aging population will have widespread economic impact
By 2030, about 20 percent of the population will be senior citizens. And, according to UN estimates, by 2035 there will be 44 Americans aged 65 or older for every 100 adults between 25 and 64.
As more Americans live longer, we can expect more of these older Americans will remain in the workforce far longer than generations past. As the old-age dependency ratio climbs, however, we can also expect a larger population of employees to take on senior care responsibilities.
The time is now for businesses and organizations to get serious about America’s aging population, and to start thinking proactively about how to address the mounting senior care needs of our workforce.
Senior Care at Work … By the Numbers
The Atlantic frames senior care as a potential women-in-the-workplace issue, noting an Institute for Women’s Policy Research report stating women are far more likely to work part-time or leave the workforce due to family caregiving needs. This is, perhaps, too narrow a focus. Consider the numbers:
- 50+ percent Nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s are in what what’s commonly called the “Sandwich Generation,” meaning they have parents age 65 or older and are either raising or financially supporting children of their own.
- 60 million Upwards of 60 million informal caregivers provide care to adults with limitations each year in the United States.
- $450 billion The unpaid contributions of family caregivers had an estimated economic value of about $450 billion in 2009 alone, according to a report by AARP’s Public Policy Institute.
- 60 percent Of those who are caring for adults, nearly 60 percent are doing so while working full-time, according to a MetLife study.
- 70 percent Nearly 70 percent of these working caregivers are forced to make career adjustments, such as turning down promotions, scaling back hours or even leaving their jobs.
- $30 billion Businesses are losing tens of billions in annual productivity costs due to care-related issues like reduced hours, absenteeism and presenteeism.
- 45 percent Approximately 45 percent of American senior caregivers are men, according to a Pew Research report that poked a hole in the stereotype that family caregivers are always daughters or daughters-in-law.
So Now What?
Family-friendly federal policies that support all types of family caregivers – like an expanded FMLA, for example – could certainly help offset the economic implications of our aging population. But change happens slowly at a policy level.
In the meantime, businesses would be wise to be proactive in adapting to an aging America by thinking about the implications of senior care at work.
Like the way leading employers have, in the absence of a federal paid parental leave policies, leveraged offering paid maternity and paternity leave to attract and retain young talent, expanding family-friendly benefits to include senior care supports could further establish organizations as employers of choice.
In addition to being a competitive advantage, there are bottom line business benefits to employer-provided elder case assistance, such as reducing employee stress levels and absenteeism, and improving engagement, loyalty and productivity.
How can employers alleviate the stress and provide support for employees with senior care responsibilities?
- Invite the Conversation
End-of-life issues are unpredictable and can be unpleasant, so there remains a stigma around elder care that makes it difficult to talk about. Proactively start the conversation in your workplace by holding informational sessions on topics relevant to employees who might be caring for aging relatives – an Alzheimer’s lunch and learn, for instance. Use these events to create a company culture in which employees feel comfortable talking about what’s happening in their lives, and how it affects their job performance and stress levels.
Read More About Reducing Senior-Care Related Absenteeism
- Be a Resource
Employer-provided elder care benefits isn’t as radical a concept as it might sound. It’s becoming increasingly common for companies to provide some level of senior care assistance to their employees. According to its 2014 National Study of Employers, the Families and Work Institute found 75 percent of employers surveyed – most of whom fall within FMLA guidelines – provide paid or unpaid time off to care for an aging relative. Additionally, 43 percent of employers offer elder care resource and referral services, and 41 percent provide dependent care assistance programs for elder care.
Learn more about Care.com Workplace Solutions’ senior care support services
- Establish a Culture of Flexibility
It’s common for employees struggling with caregiving responsibilities to worry about showing vulnerability at work. They stress about what's going on at home while they're at work, and they stress about showing enough commitment to their jobs when they're spending 15 or 20 hours a week on caregiving responsibilities. But if you can establish a company culture in which employees know that it's OK to leave a little early on Tuesdays to pick mom up from PT or work from home on Fridays when dad has his doctor's appointments, then that will give employees the peace of mind to focus on the task at hand and be more productive.
What do you think are effective ways for employers to address senior care at work? Let us know in the comments below.