With companies continually finding ways to make their operations leaner to stay competitive, it's likely that you and your co-workers are juggling tight deadlines and heavy workloads. Your elderly parent's slip-and-fall injury, or your cubicle-mate's child waking up with a high fever, can bring all the balls crashing down to earth.
U.S. employers lose between $17.1 billion and $33.6 billion annually in lost productivity related to caregiving — including absenteeism, workday interruptions, crisis-in-care situations arising from an unforeseeable illness or injury, reduced work hours and replacing employees — according to a 2006 study by insurance company MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving.
“We surveyed our employees and found that 10 percent of those providing care for loved ones spent 20 hours per week caregiving,” says Maureen Corcoran, vice president of diversity for Prudential Financial.
To minimize the impact on productivity and to keep employees from becoming physically and emotionally drained, a growing number of companies nationwide are developing policies and programs to help employees with these types of family caregiving emergencies.
“People need time during the day to deal with some caregiving issues,” says Deborah Russell, director of workforce issues for AARP. “You can't call an agency in the evening or over the weekend. Clearly, offering resources to employees to care for an aging parent comes at a cost-savings to employers. Otherwise, employees will take time off or use company time to figure things out.”
“We're seeing more sandwich generation employees [and] more young people caring for older relatives ... with a more generationally and ethnically diverse workforce,” says Susan Seitel, founder and president of Minnesota-based WFC Resources, which helps employers create supportive workplaces. “People simply can't do it all without help.”
The first of the Baby Boomers are on the verge of turning 65, and life expectancy is increasing — which means a greater percentage of the workforce will become family caregivers over the next 10 to 15 years and assistance programs for them will become more widespread.
“Companies have grappled with the fact that they're paying for maternity leave,” says Suzanne Mintz, president and co-founder of the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA). “Now we're dealing with elder care. It's not as inculcated yet, but it's the next big bulge.”
LEVELS OF ASSISTANCE VARY
About a third of large U.S. companies already provide elder care programs to help employees with adult caregiving responsibilities. More than one in five companies (22 percent) also offer childcare assistance. Although companies must pay for these programs, the investment helps improve productivity and employee retention.
Seitel says corporate caregiver assistance programs run the gamut from offering information, “which is mildly helpful,” to paying for geriatric caregivers, “which is tremendously helpful.”
But it's not easy to put together an assistance program that meets everyone's needs, explains Dana Vandecoevering, Intel Corporation's work-life program manager. “[With] the resources that are available [it's] not so easy to say, ‘You can all go to the same place.’ It's not one size fits all; it depends on the person and [his] caregiving situation.”
Ford Motor Company, which has no formal elder-care caregiver assistance program, helps workers find community-based services and get health insurance counseling through an internal Web site.
Lunchtime seminars that address family caregivers' needs and concerns are popular at many companies. In addition to providing an internal Web site that includes links to local agencies, Intel Corporation invites agencies on-site to describe their services to employees.
Intel has also contracted with Legacy Caregiver Services to provide its seminar, “Powerful Tools for Caregivers,” on managing stress and taking time to care for themselves after a company-wide survey of employees revealed that 76 percent of the 1,200 who completed the survey were caregivers and more than half of them (52 percent) reported being stressed or overwhelmed.
Judy Hartley, 50, an applications engineer at Intel whose 73-year-old mother lives with her, took the “Powerful Tools” seminar two years ago. “It's not too bad caring for my mom right now, but she has a heart condition so I wanted to be prepared for what might be coming,” she says. Hartley learned how to take breaks from caregiving when she needed them. “I always had to stop what I was doing to go help her, but we talked about it, and she understands that I need some alone time. ... [E]verybody needs a break.”
LifeCare, Inc., an employee benefits provider that helps its 1,500 corporate clients reduce absenteeism and enhance productivity, holds seminars for Prudential employees to address issues such as how to communicate with aging loved ones, provide long-distance care and manage stress. LifeCare also supplements an internal Web site the company provides its caregiving employees with a free, 24-hour adult-care resource and referral hotline.
“They can get you a list of rehab centers in the town where your mom lives or find a support group in your area,” says Corcoran. “Anything you can think of, they can get.”
Resources and referrals work on a smaller scale, too. Virginia-based George Mason University (GMU) has an employee on staff who fields all caregiving questions. “We can give you resources anywhere in the country,” says Janet Walker, GMU's work-life and communications coordinator in Fairfax. “Even if your mom and dad live in Arizona and need someone to come to their home and do laundry.”
Some companies go beyond the basics and give their busy employees the gift of time. For instance, Ceridian Corporation, which offers human resources, payroll, productivity and work-life services, provides employees of their corporate clients phone consultations with trained elder-care consultants.
“Someone could call and say she'd heard conflicting reports that her grandmother in California is forgetful,” says Jennifer Piliero, senior product manager of Ceridian LifeWorks. “We'd get permission from the grandmother to do a full assessment. Is she oriented to date and time? How are her hygiene, self-care and eating habits? The employee would get a report, and if need be, real-time reviews of three facilities in the grandmother's area. We can be your eyes and ears on the ground.”
Who are the caregivers?
Some 44 million Americans are family caregivers.
Nearly 60 percent of people who care for adults over 50 are employed. Most of these caregivers hold full-time jobs.
More than 60 percent of caregivers with jobs have made work-related adjustments because of their caregiving responsibilities.
In 2005, 27 percent of the U.S. workforce was 50 or older. By 2014, 32 percent will be 50 or older.
Men miss about 9 days per year; women miss 24.75 days.
The standard 9-to-5 work schedule may not fit an employee's caregiving responsibilities and rhythms. The MetLife-National Alliance for Caregiving study found that nearly 60 percent of workers who cared for older adults got to work late or left early because of caregiving responsibilities. In about 20 percent of those cases, workers couldn't make up lost time. In response, many companies let employees telecommute or have flexible schedules.
“It's less expensive to support an existing good-quality employee than to replace him,” explains NFCA's Mintz. “And research has found that employees who telecommute are far more productive than other employees.”
Flexibility programs reduce absenteeism and workplace disruptions, says Vandecoevering. “Instead of sitting at your desk worrying about your parent, take [him] to the doctor; you'll be more productive when you come back,” she says. “I'll take a long lunch and bring my mom to the heart doctor, and it's absolutely okay. You don't feel like everyone is watching you or saying, ‘where are you?’”
GMU lets employees set flexible hours, compress their schedules so they work 10 hours a day for four days a week instead of eight hours a day five days a week, telecommute or work remotely. “Teleworkers say working at home allows them to be more creative and engaged,” says Walker.
Rizna Ahmed, assistant director of benefits and absence management at GMU, has been telecommuting two days a week since her daughter was born last year. “It's a great work-life balance,” Ahmed says. “I got to see my baby take her first steps, because I happened to be home. My loyalty has increased tremendously. I feel good working for an employer who cares.”
One caveat: When a company offers flex time and telecommuting, HR has to get buy-in from supervisors at every level. “Our research shows that you can have great programs, but they don't work if individual managers have assumptions that undermine the ability of people to use them,” says Cynthia Calvert, deputy director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. “Companies should offer training to prevent this type of discrimination.”
Prudential provides employees with emergency backup daycare, when an elderly parent is released from the hospital or a child gets sick. “We provide employees 80 hours of backup dependent care at $4 per hour,” says Corcoran. “It really helps employees to ramp up the care and concern for their loved ones.”
When GMU employees need to hire caregivers to look after their loved ones, they can turn to SitterCity.com, a national database that links people with 150,000 qualified local caregivers, nannies, babysitters and pet sitters. GMU picks up the tab for the annual $95 access fee, but faculty, staff and students who use the service pay for the care provided themselves. “There are senior caregivers, nannies, pet sitters,” says Walker. “It works for all phases of people's life cycle.”
“We know that adult care impacts companies; people leave their positions or are late to work,” says Corcoran. “We think that we're taking a pretty good stab to remediate some of that and keep it at bay.”
But that's not to say that Corcoran doesn't see room for improvement. “As much as we communicate about our programs, employees only pay attention when they need it. If I don't have kids and a child care thing comes out, I probably won't open it; it' still not perfect.”
The communication problem can be a two-way street, says Seitel. “We sometimes hear about programs that are ill-used because employees just don't know about them, don't know what their companies are offering.”
For her part, Vandecoevering is looking into doing more at Intel. “It's not a done deal, but I'm looking to expand ... the caregiving area for employees with kids with special needs. I'm looking to build a Web site for employees like our elder care Web site.”
But she can only go so far so fast in implementing new employee assistance programs: “Some companies are doing backup programs with adult daycare, if you needed emergency care. I'd like to look into getting this, but I'm not sure if I can. Our approach is a little bit at a time. I'm not sure if this will be added anytime soon.”
For a company that is thinking of providing caregiving assistance or expanding an existing program, the trick is to connect the initiative to “a dollar amount on productivity and greater engagement,” notes Corcoran, but she also acknowledges that employee retention is a clear benefit because “we know what it costs us to fill a position.”
Corcoran certainly won't get an argument from Seitel on this point: “We have a serious skills shortage in many industries — especially financial services, health care, manufacturing and engineering. Caregiving assistance is one way to recruit those skills. Employers want to be seen as supportive in order to hang on to the good workers they have.”
For Ahmed, the new mother who telecommutes part of the week, having her employer meet her part way in handling her work and family responsibilities has made all the difference. “I get the stimulation; I get the career. I used to think if I quit my job, I would have regrets, but I don't have to because I'm managing to do both.” The upside for GMU, she adds, is “happy employees, happy to do what we're doing.”
Since Intel began offering seminars to help its caregiving employees cope, Hartley feels she is “more equipped to be able to handle whatever happens in the future. There's a network of people; I'm not alone, not the only person looking after an elder.”
How To Sell Your Company On Caregiver Assistance Programs
Before you lobby your boss or Human Resources department to implement a caregiver assistance program, first find out what resources are available. Visit www.HeartInsight.com, and click on “Resources” in the left column, then scroll down to the section for caregivers. Once you've done your homework, try these tips to help boost your chances of success:
“Get a group together who have caregiving issues, and approach your HR representative. And make a business case. ... [E]mphasize how much you could accomplish if you could get some help or work from home one day a week.” — Susan Seitel, WFC Resources
“Couch it as a multigenerational thing — not just for older people, but for children as well. Employers may be more apt to look at how to support their employees if it doesn't look like a benefit that's only good for part of their workforce.” — Deborah Russell, AARP
“Present data, issues and what other companies are doing. You can't just say, ‘We're caregivers with problems, and we want you to solve them.’ Write a proposal. You need to put things together in a very cogent fashion.” — Suzanne Mintz, NFCA
© 2008 American Heart Association, Inc.