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Is Senior Care the New Child Care?

Patrick Ball on November 17, 2014 04:34 PM

It's 10:26 and his cell rings. Without looking he knows he won't be making his 11 a.m. meeting with his boss.

young woman interacting with elderly woman

"Is she okay? I'm on my way," he says with a mix of anxiety and dread, knowing what the rest of the day, and night, will have in store for him. He gives his boss a vague excuse, without letting her in on the reality. This new reality. Keeping a phone on him, being ready to run at a moment's notice and living in fear of these dreaded emergency calls. 

And so it goes for millions of employees, in hundreds of cities and thousands of towns. Except not exactly the way you might think. We're not talking about a father and his little girl -- he's an adult son caring for his aging mother.

People today are living longer than they ever have before, and the trend toward a graying population is projected to pick up in the coming decades. According to the UN's population projections, the "old age dependency ratio" will rise by more than 70 percent in the United States by 2035.

Already the impacts of an aging population are being felt at work and at home.

"When you're forced to choose between a care issue and a work issue, everybody loses," says Ken Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute. "People are not going to choose work over their loved ones in critical situations."

Read more about The Secret Work-Family Issue Nobody's Talking About

And businesses are adapting. As the population ages and companies respond to the needs of Sandwich Generation employees, elder care assistance, like child care before it, has become an increasingly common -- and increasingly important -- benefit offering for businesses looking to attract and retain high quality employees.

Here are five ways that, from an employer perspective, senior care is becoming as big of an employee need and obligation as child care.

  1. The Need for Senior Care is Widespread Among Working Families
    A Pew Research Study found that 47 percent of adults in the United States are part of the Sandwich Generation, meaning they have some level of care responsibilities for an aging parent or young children. And it's an even greater trend among professionals, as a MetLife study found that 60 percent of the workforce has caregiving responsibilities for an aging parent or disabled adult.

    Find 7 Stress Management Tips for Sandwich Generation Employees
  2. Caregiving Duties at Home are Impacting Employee Performance at Work
    Struggling to juggle their personal and professional responsibilities, almost 70 percent of caregivers are forced to make workplace adjustments, such as turning down promotions, scaling back hours or even leaving their jobs. Meanwhile, businesses are losing tens of billions in annual productivity costs due to care-related issues like reduced hours, absenteeism and presenteeism.

  3. It Affects Everyone 
    Senior care isn't just a responsibility for wives, daughters and daughters-in-law. Research has shown nearly half of Americans taking care of elderly relatives are men-- many of whom are working full-time, live some distance away from relatives and are reluctant to talk about their caregiving responsibilities.

    Learn about Defining the Sandwich Generation at Work
  4. Employers are Responding
    In its 2014 National Study of Employers, the Families and Work Institute found that more businesses are offering senior care assistance in some way shape or form. For example, 75 percent of employers say they provide paid or unpaid time off for employees to provide elder care without jeopardizing their jobs. Additionally, 43 percent of employers are providing elder care resource and referral and 41 percent provide dependent care assistance programs for elder care. Companies can also offer as a benefit to employees, providing access to emergency backup care providers and Masters level social workers to assist with senior care planning.

  5. For Employers, Offering Family-Friendly Benefits is Good for Business 
    The needs of the Sandwich Generation aren't going to disappear. In fact, it could become more of an issue as Baby Boomers age and young adults boomerang back home, where they'll receive financial and emotional support from their working parents. And experts say the cost of doing nothing could be crippling for businesses.

    Beyond the billions lost in productivity costs, businesses are losing high quality employees due to caregiving responsibilities and the cost of employee turnover is high. And so, as the workforce takes on more senior care responsibilities, leading employers are finding that supporting employees with elder care assistance can be good for their bottom lines by boosting productivity and helping to retain talent.

"Organizations just need to be strategic in the long term," says Matos. "The more they think about people throughout the lifecycle, the more loyalty they can generate from the employee base."

Read more about Care.'s BackupCare Child and Adult Services and CarePlanning for Adults and Seniors .