This post is the second in a three-part series in which I lay out basic information about elder care and how it affects the workplace. Last week, I set out information from recent research that describes who caregivers are and where they are in the workforce. This week, I discuss the financial and practical effects elder caregiving is having on workers and employers. Whether the disruption is occasional – a health crisis that leads to a frantic trip across the country – or routine – when the elder’s needs become part of the family caregiver’s daily to-do list – anyone who has juggled caregiving for a parent or other older person while holding a job knows how challenging the combination is.
Employer costs and impacts
To go straight to the bottom line, elder care obligations are costing US employers an estimated $33 Billion a year in lost productivity.
More than half (55%) of all working caregivers would like to work fewer hours, and about half cut back their hours. Workday interruptions like arriving late, leaving early, or taking extended lunch hours are common (49%) as caregivers try to mesh their work schedules with the limited hours most health care and other service providers are available. Many elders have frequent health care appointments; disruption to the caregiver’s work day is compounded by unpredictable wait times at health care providers’ offices, unexpected follow up testing, waiting time for prescriptions, and the like.
In addition to those issues, in-home elder care is often unreliable. A caregiver scheduled to stay with the elder during working hours who arrives late or cancels at the last minute, which is not uncommon, wrecks any routine the family caregiver may have established. It puts the family caregiver in the position of choosing between leaving their loved one alone or risking their job.
Those situations create enormous stress for the family caregiver, which in turn contributes to another significant cost impact employers report: health care costs for family caregivers are on average 8% higher than for employees who don’t have elder care responsibilities. This translates to an estimated $13.4 Billion per year in the US.
Family caregivers have higher rates of depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, and lung disease. They also are less likely to exercise or get preventive healthcare screenings, and some groups of caregivers are more likely to smoke and drink more alcohol than non-caregivers. Even younger caregivers, aged 18-39, have higher rates of high blood pressure, kidney and heart disease, high cholesterol and lung disease compared to peers who do not have family caregiving responsibilities. These conditions will, in turn, lead to further increases in health costs as these caregivers age.
Some workers (5%) refuse promotions that might require more time on the job or travel. Another 10% of working caregivers give up trying to balance their family and work obligations and retire early or stop working altogether.
Employers’ costs come in different forms: reduced productivity of workers who are absent from work or distracted while at work, replacing employees who leave, loss of institutional knowledge and skills, and managing the disruptions to workplace operations. Given the rate at which the US population is aging and requiring care, employers who have not yet felt the impact eldercare obligations has on the workplace will almost certainly experience it in the future.
Individuals’ losses last a lifetime.
Finally, individual workers who take on elder caregiving responsibilities pay a very high price. Retirement benefits like Social Security and pensions are determined largely based on the amount an individual earn during their working life. Even a short-term reduction in pay is only part of the loss. In 2011, MetLife estimated that family caregivers who stop working lose $300,000+ in lifetime earnings and benefits. The decision to care for a loved one can shadow the rest of a person’s life.
Next week I’ll write about what employers are doing to mitigate the impact elder caregiving has on business and the business case showing the benefits employers receive when they educate and support family caregivers through the workplace.
The statistics I’ve cited are drawn from the following sources:
American Association of Retired Persons, Valuing the Invaluable, 2011 update
Center for Work Life Law at UC Hastings, 2016 Litigation Update
Family Caregiver Alliance (2003). Women and Caregiving: Facts and Figures, published on Family Caregiver Alliance (https://www.caregiver.org) 2015 update
Gallup-Healthways (2011) Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index
MetLife Mature Market Institute (2011) Study “Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers,” Study “Productivity Losses to U.S. Businesses.”
National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and American Association of Retired Persons (2015) Caregiving in the United States