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You Better Start Thinking About Employees' Parents, Not Just Their Kids 

Posted by Liz Taurasi on 17 Sep 2015

You probably have a pretty good idea of how many of your co-workers have kids. Maybe you’ve seen the pictures on their desks, swapped stories over lunch or even contributed a few bucks toward a shower gift for the accountant who just went out on maternity leave.

But have you ever considered the other side of the caregiving spectrum? Would it surprise you to hear that nearly half of American workers have cared for an aging relative?

Yes, really. Across the country, tens of millions men and women are sandwiched between caring for their own children and aging relatives -- often while working full time. Senior care responsibilities can be stressful, timing-consuming and can affect an employee’s ability to do his or her job.

So, as employers look for ways to support our modern workforce,it’s  critical that they think about employee’s parents, not just their children. Here are some reasons why. 

  1. More People Are Living Longer … And Most Will Require Some Kind of Care
    With the Baby Boomers increasingly moving into retirement age and living longer, the number of people over 65 is expected to double in the next 25 years. A 65-year-old man today has a life expectancy of 81.6. If he reaches age 85, he can expect to live to see 90, according to Harvard Medical School’s July Harvard Health Letter. Currently, the average life expectancy in the U.S. at 77.6 years, up from 75.4 years in 1990.

  2. Not Everyone Has Children, But Everyone is Someone’s Child
    With more and more people living longer than ever before, old-age dependency ratios are increasing across the globe and millions of men and women --  almost half of all adults in their 40s and 50s -- are providing informal care for aging relatives. Looking specifically at how that might impact the modern workforce, the Families and Work Institute’s 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce, 42 percent of employed Americans have provided elder care in the past five years.

  3. Caregiver Career Adjustments Cost Businesses Big Time
    Trying to care for an aging parent while maintaining a professional career can be a challenge for for employees, and as these responsibilities become more widespread it’s starting to impact the bottom line for many businesses. Employees caring for aging relatives often find themselves having to make adjustments at work, like scaling back their hours, turning down a promotion or even leaving their jobs, all at a cost to themselves -- and their employers. Often times, employees caring for elderly relatives will miss work due to these obligations, burning through vacation and sick time and impacting their overall productivity in the office. A Metlife study of Working Caregivers and Employer Health Care Costs broke down the employer costs thusly:

  • $5.1 billion for absenteeism

  • $4.8 billion in shifts from full-time to part-time work

  • $6.6 billion to replace employee

  • $6.3 billion due to workplace interruptions.

  • All told, family caregiving-related interruptions cost American businesses tens of billions of dollars annually, according to estimates.

  1. Senior Care Programs are as Important as Child Care Benefits
    Child care is often the focus in conversations around the importance of businesses supporting working families. But, while parental leave has become a hot-button issue, the Silver Tsunami has been sneaking up on Corporate America. Employees with caregiving responsibilities are looking for support from HR and their employers, and they’re starved for information about what programs are available. Data from FWI’s 2014 National Study of Employers reveals that progressive employers are becoming more likely to provide senior care benefits in response to increasing demand for educational seminars, consultative services, resource and referral and adult backup care.

  1. Senior Care is Like Child Care, Except That It’s Totally Different   
    There’s a stigma around senior care, perhaps because end-of-life issues aren’t easy to talk about, that makes employees more reluctant to talk about their caregiving responsibilities than they might be with child care. So it’s important for employers to get out in front of the needs and be proactive about educating employees. host Alzheimer's seminars and follow-up with attendees, for example. Another key difference between senior care and child care is that elder care issues hit so suddenly, as opposed to having time to prepare. After a parent falls or a routine checkup finds something unexpected, senior caregivers scramble to research solutions for problems their often unequipped to solve themselves.  

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