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Eldercare at Work - Understanding the Impact

Eldercare at Work - Understanding the Impact

John Becwar, Executive Director, Owner of Oasis Seniors Advisors, Western Milwaikee

One of the biggest issues affecting the workplace in 2018 and beyond are the complexities of caregiving on both employees and employers. For employees, the demands of work while caring for elder family member at home are increasingly challenging and can have lasting effects on their income, career mobility, health, and much more. Employers, on the other hand, face the challenge of supporting employee caregivers in order to maintain productivity.

According to studies, as many as 42% of working Americans, more than 54 million people, have provided unpaid eldercare in the last five years. The average age of caregivers, “sandwich-generation” employees, who simultaneously care for children spouses and parents, is 49 – a peak year for earnings and achievement. Women take on slightly more responsibility for care, but men are greatly impacted as well. However, what is often overlooked is that 25% of that 54 million are millennials. So, whether they currently realize it or not, the impact of caregiving on
employees is an issue or employers – a generational one.

Role of the Caregiver

The average caregiver who works outside the home spends nearly 20 hours per week providing care for one or more family members. Since most working caregivers (77%) work full-time, caregiving is essentially a second job. It’s also one that can last for several years. On average, care giving is provided for more than four years, with some care extending for decades. In addition, few use paid help, with approximately 76% of working caregivers relying only their families and themselves.

So, what kinds of care do family caregivers provide? The types of care range from personal Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), which include bathing, dressing, feeding, and help with toileting, to everyday tasks, or Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), such as shopping, preparing meals, providing transportation, doing housework, handling finances, coordinating services, managing medications, and communicating with health care professionals.

In addition, many employees are balancing caring duties alongside their careers by checking in regularly with an elderly relative over the phone, receiving distressing calls from their relatives, and taking calls from a concerned friend or family member, all during working hours.

Impact of Eldercare on Employees

While individuals accept care responsibilities lovingly and willingly, the consequences for working caregivers, both personal and financial, can be significant and long-lasting. These may include poorer health, increased stress (both in and out of work), time lost from work, lower productivity, quitting a

job to give care, lost employer paid benefits, and lower current and future earnings, including Social Security and pension income. Eventually, 10% of caregivers report quitting their jobs to provide full-time care, resulting in an average loss of more than $303, 880 each in wage, Social Security income

and pension income over a lifetime, while 10 million caregivers 50+ who care for their parents lose and estimated $3 trillion in wages, pensions, retirement funds, and benefits. There’s no doubt that caregiving takes toll on employees and affects both their physical and mental health as well. In addition

to career and financial sacrifices list above, employees also report that the demands of care giving result in feeling more tired, exercising less often, less vacation time, getting sick more often, and feeling personal relationships have suffered.

Impact of Eldercare on Employers

It’s only reasonable to expect then that the detrimental effects of care giving carry over to the workplace and have a significant impact on employers – and it does. U.S. businesses lose up to an estimated $33.6 billion per year in lost productivity from full-time working caregivers. Costs associated with replacing emplCaregiver with elderly manoyees, absenteeism, workday distractions, supervisory time, and reductions in hours from full-time to part-time all take a toll. The average annual cost to employers per full-time working caregiver is $2,110.

Caregiver absenteeism alone costs the U.S. economy as estimated $25.2 billion in lost productivity (based on the average number of work days missed per working caregiver, assuming $200 in lost productivity per day).

Lost productivity is not the only costs employers face. Employer health care costs also increase. In one study, employers paid about 8 percent more for the health care of caregiver employees, an additional $13.4 billion per year--more in health care costs than employees without caregiving responsibilities. In addition, both younger employees (age 18 to 39) and older employees (age 50+) with eldercare responsibilities were more likely to report fair or poor health in general.

Addressing the Issue and Implementing Eldercare Programs for Employees

Although many employers are implementing eldercare programs, a common fear or challenge working caregivers face is the fear of possible negative reactions from employers. While the birth or adoption of a child is celebrated and fully supported by most employers with maternity leave and day care programs, employees that struggle with the responsibilities of caregiving for an aging parent can often be perceived by employers to be less committed or competent. The notion that employees are reluctant to tell employers about their challenges is reflected in a National Alliance for Caregivng (NAC)/AARP report that shows only 56% of caregivers report that their supervisor is aware of their caregiving responsibilities. When employees don’t see a support program in place and fear of reprisal, demotion, or loss of potential upward career mobility opportunities, they often report nothing about their challenges.

Some practices that employers may want to include in an eldercare program are the following:

  • Adopt a policy valuing caregiver employees based on job performance rather than holding them to outdated assumptions that they are not committed to their jobs.
  • Allow workplace flexibility, which provides alternate work arrangements: flex-time, compressed workweeks (i.e., working 10 hour days), part-time or working fewer hours for part of the year, and telecommuting.
  • Offer eldercare support, resources, and senior advisor/referral services to caregiver employees. By doing so, employers benefit from better worker retention, improved productivity, lower stress, improved moral and physical health among workers.

Providing access to senior advisor services is an easy and no cost option for employers to effectively support employee caregivers and can serve as a core component to the implementation of an eldercare program or policy.

The role of a senior advisor is to discuss, educate, and provide caregivers senior living options for their loved one

If a transition to assisted living or memory care is decided to be the best course of action, the senior advisor can help provide the best living options based on the care levels required, financial capability, social and geographic preferences. The senior advisor can also refer the family to other important services, such as:

  • Veterans Benefits Counselors – Aid & Attendance Pension
  • Elder Law Attorneys
  • Senior Moving/ Downsizing/Relocation Specialists
  • Senior Real Estate Specialists
  • Financial Planners
  • Estate Property Cleaning Service

Of course, for most seniors remaining at home is the preferred option. If that is safe and appropriate for the senior, some recommendations may be the following:

  • In-Home Care – Assistance with cares or other activities through a home care agency or volunteer organizations
  • Adult Day Services – These centers provide social and therapeutic activities for seniors in a safe, supportive environment. They primarily serve seniors suffering from some form of dementia and that cannot be left alone, so an invaluable resource to caregivers
  • Home Modifications – If the home is suitable for modifications, such as ramps, railings, grab bars, etc., there are companies that specialize in that area. Some even have occupational therapists on staff to ensure the best and safest environment.


So, really the first step for employers is to begin to gain an understanding of the challenges of their employee caregivers. Numerous studies have found that flexible workplace policies enhance employee productivity, lower absenteeism, reduce costs, and appear to positively affect profits. They also aid recruitment and retention efforts, allowing employers to retain a talented and knowledgeable workforce and save the money and time that would otherwise have been spent on recruiting, interviewing, selecting, and training new employees.

In summary, it’s imperative for human resource departments to get ahead of this issue, first, by acquiring the appropriate knowledge and education about the daily struggles of employee caregivers. Why, because they are not likely openly sharing them with you. The issues caregivers face are not much different than those of new parents of young children, yet the perception within most workplace environments is not nearly as supportive. Employers need to publicly acknowledge the challenges of employee caregivers and implement policies to address them. When employers begin to create a supportive environment for this segment of their workforce, the research suggests it will result in both higher productivity and profitably.

John Becwar is a Certified Senior Advisor and the owner of Oasis Senior Advisors Western Milwaukee. He provides a free service to clients by educating them about and guiding them through the maze of senior living options. John specializes in the transition from home to independent living, assisted living, or memory care communities. Ultimately, the goal is to offer guidance and options which will allow families to make informed decisions and to save them time and stress during an often emotional time. If you are interested in a consultation to discuss senior living options for a loved one, you can reach John at 414-588-2999 or jbecwar@youroasisadvisor.com.