Eldercare Takes Its Toll on Employees and Employers

by Michael Haberman on July 13, 2011 · 8 comments

Eldercare has become a much bigger issue in recent years than it has been in the past. There are several reasons, prime among them is the increasing life expectancy. The pressures that accompany caring for aging parents take a toll on employees and on their employers.  Craig Schneider of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes in Caring for Parents Increasingly Costly that “One in four American adults provides care for an aging parent, a threefold increase since 1994…”

The toll or cost for employees occurs on several different levels.

  1. There is an emotional cost associated with watching your parents diminish in vitality. It hurts to watch them lose their independence at the same time you lose your independence as you pick up the responsibility of making sure they get to appointments for care and to continue some social contact.
  2. There is a financial cost. Although some parents have saved money or have insurance not all do. The adult children often take on some of the financial burden of providing care for parents. If you are taking care of a parent that is distant from you the cost of making trips, especially if a trip has to be made on short notice.
  3. There is potential career loss. Mr. Schneider reported on several employees who lost their jobs as a result of the extraordinary amount of time it took to take care of an ill parent. They were small companies that did not have to comply with Family and Medical Leave requirements. However, they did try to work with the employee but there reaches a time that situations are not going to improve and decisions have to be made. Companies have to decide or employees have to decide whether continuing in that job is possible. Even with FMLA leave it is unpaid time and it does not cover just situations of failing health. Any leave has to be associated with a serious medical condition.

There are also costs incurred on the employer’s side as well. These include:

  1. Loss of focus and attention on the part of the employee. This results in their productivity loss as well as the loss of productivity other employees who pick up the extra work burden to make up for the effected employee. According to Schneider’s research this cost employers $33.6 billion five years ago and the cost is even greater today.
  2. Physical costs associated with paying out vacations, leaves, etc.
  3. Loss of a valued employee and the potential long term effect on the business, such as customer relationships.
  4. An emotional toll associated with having to terminate an employee in that situation. Despite characterizations in the press, movies, and cartoons most employers I know, especially smaller employers, enjoy making this decision.

It is an unfortunate circumstance of the way our society is structured that female employees end up suffering more careerwise than male employees. Daughters more often take on the role of caregivers and subsequently abandon careers to care for a parent. Their marriages also suffer from the stress of loss of job, loss of privacy, loss of independence and the associated financial burden.

Is there a solution for this? I am not an advocate for governmental intervention. I am not an advocate for making employers pay for eldercare through increased paid time off. Afterall the company of the employee did not any hand in the lack of saving or planning that the employee’s parents didn’t do. Some companies, such as Home Depot  and UPS are working with insurance programs to provide eldercare, but those are just two companies. So I am not really sure what a solution is for today.

I do know that the solution for tomorrow is education today! Insurance companies, social agencies and employers need to work to educate workers on the importance of saving for the eventual need for eldercare. Life expectancy is not going to suddenly start getting shorter. So we need to be prepared. Despite the old t-shirt saying in the picture I know my wife and I are working hard on not becoming a burden to our children. Perhaps we should get that message across to everyone.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

jenean c gilstrap July 13, 2011 at 8:35 am

great article – i spent several years in elder law at a legal service non-profit in delaware where my youngest daughter also was a managing attorney specializing in elder law for a number of years – so the subject near and dear to my heart – oh, and as someone over the age of -shall we say over the age of 30something – i do all i can to be a burden to as many of my adult children as possible, traveling cross country several times a year to share the joy with them – anyway, feel free to visit my little blogworld and follow me along here and there and on FB as i will be you!

and have a great day!

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jenean c gilstrap July 13, 2011 at 8:40 am

and see what happens to that over 30something crowd and memory – forgot to mention that i also spent many years working as a paralegal in the private sector law specializing in plaintiff’s employment discrimination -

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Lisa Hardy July 14, 2011 at 9:20 am

Thank you, Mike for reminding us about the impact of this critical issue. And yes, education and action today is the solution. Employee Assistance Programs offer support for the emotional impact as well as assistance with financial and logistical solutions. And by helping the employees, many pro-actively, EAP’s have a positive effect on the bottom line for the employer. I’m happy to assist any company who doesn’t have an EAP working hard for them in this and many other areas.

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Wendy King July 14, 2011 at 2:44 pm

As Baby Boomers age, we can expect more and more employees to face both financial and time constraints dealing with parents’ healthcare and care coordination. I agree that the solution is education and the employer can play a critical role in helping provide resources to employees taking care of elderly parents. Employer-sponsored advocacy programs that provide specific help to caretakers of elderly parents can help curb expense dramatically. With a personal advocate doing the legwork, employees can concentrate on their work, while their advocate spends time on things like appointment scheduling, records transfers, explanation of new diagnosis, and even research on appropriate care options, nursing homes, home health, etc. Our advocates see a positive effect on both presenteeism, and resulting productivity. So both the employee and their employer wins.

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Susan Avello July 18, 2011 at 11:30 am

Great post Mike, and very relative to our current demographics trend. You are so right, proactively educating our employees and employers on this critical issue is key. Being prepared BEFORE we get “the call” keeps us from reaction mode in a crisis situation.

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