This post is the final piece of my series laying out basic information about elder care and how it affects the workplace. In the first week, I described recent research about who caregivers are and where they are in the workforce. Next, I discussed the financial and practical effects elder caregiving is having on workers and employers. This week, I’ll outline the programs and practices employers are finding effective in reducing workplace disruptions due to elder caregiving responsibilities. To recap briefly:

  • There are a lot of caregivers (more than 1 in 6 (17%)) full or part-time workers in the US report that they currently assist in the care of an elderly or disabled family member, relative or friend. This number is much higher for Hispanic, Asian, and African American workers.
  • There are caregivers in all generations, half are less than 50 years old.
  • Some 70% of working caregivers report difficulties at work due to their dual roles and need some workplace accommodation.
  • Claims of workplace discrimination based on family responsibilities for elders are increasing rapidly, as much as 650% in the past ten years.
  • Elder care obligations are costing US employers an estimated $33 Billion a year in lost productivity and an estimated $13.4 billion in higher healthcare costs for family caregivers.

Despite several decades’ worth of predictions about how elder care would affect the workplace and the bottom line, and studies quantifying that impact, employers have been slow to adopt measures that help family caregivers. Less than half the employers surveyed by the Families and Work Institute for its 2016 “When Work Works” report offer even the most common elder care benefit: resource and referral services. This is one of my main reasons for establishing Square One; I’ve seen the need and want to bring education about caregiving, aging and health care into the workplace, where it will be most convenient for the people who need it most. I have seen that a foundation of basic knowledge about these subjects can make the difference between an elder or health care crisis and a series of elder and health care events people can manage.

What Measures Have the Most Impact?

The workplace modifications that deliver the most measurable results on elder caregiving-related disruptions are flexible work schedules and allowing workers to work remotely.

Why is flexibility so important?

Most health care providers and related services work a typical Monday – Friday work week, as do most insurance companies and public agencies that administer Medicare and other benefit programs. Dealing with these offices is almost always frustrating and time-consuming, with unpredictable waiting time for appointments or on the phone. With flextime, workers can accompany their elders to health care appointments or get through to an insurance representative without worrying that they are missing work. (Having a second person at a health care appointment improves communication between the health care provider and the patient.) The return on investing in flextime is estimated at $1.70 – $4.34 for every dollar spent; the return on costs of telecommuting is even higher, $2.46- $4.45 for each dollar invested.

Other effective measures, for which value has not been quantified in the same way, include:

  • Extended leave policies that exceed what state and federal laws require. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act only applies to public agencies and employers that have 50 or more employees, and covers leave to care only for a spouse, child, stepchild, or parent. Care for other relations, such as grandparents or in-laws, is not covered by this federal legislation although family caregivers often have responsibility for them.
  • Stable schedules for hourly workers. If an employee does not know when they will be working, it is difficult to budget or to arrange elder care.
  • Access to elder care education, resources and an advice hotline. Some Employee Assistance Programs are now offering these services. However, because many EAP’s are run from central locations, they may not know about resources in the specific area where an employee needs help. Some EAP’s provide little more than a list of numbers for the employee to call. Others provide more comprehensive service with referrals through a network of national and local care organizations.
  • Backup emergency elder care. This benefit is similar to the emergency child-care service some employers offer, and is available when planned caregiving is unavailable or the family caregiver needs to travel unexpectedly. Some employers pay for the care or subsidize the cost.

A few very large employers (like Fannie Mae, the accounting and consulting firm Deloitte, and Emory University) have very broad elder care programs that include benefits like extended (or unlimited) caregiving leave, caregiving leave with pay, a hot line, and geriatric care management services, along with extensive support for both the employee caregiver and the elder.

Although no specific dollar return on investment is available for these benefits, studies show significant intangible benefits, including increased employee engagement, reduced absenteeism, and increased employee satisfaction. In addition, providing benefits for elder caregiving, aging and health care may help with recruiting and retaining employees in a competitive market.

Square One exists to connect people with information on caregiving, aging and health care. Square One programs are an efficient way to help your employees solve these puzzles, which cause such disruption and expense to individuals, families and businesses. Contact me to learn how Square One can help you support your employees in these critical areas.

The statistics I’ve cited in this post are drawn from the following sources:
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and ReACT. “Determining the Return on Investment: Supportive Policies for Employee Caregivers.” (2016)
AARP and ReAct. “Supporting Working Caregivers.” (2017)
Families and Work Institute. “When Work Works.” (2016)
Society for Human Resource Management. “2017 Employee Benefits.” (2017)