Caring for our parents: The flip side to caring for our children

I’m attending the State of Illinois Society for Human Resource Management conference this week so I am replaying a post I wrote last year. I hope you get something out of it.

With our current economic situation and the crazy job market we all feel a little uneasy due to the fact that for one job posting there seems to be about 40 – 200 applicants applying for the same job. When there seems to be a lot of good people looking for work, employers know retaining the best employees is a constant challenge. Add to that family crisis and it becomes an even more difficult situation. When employees face challenges in their lives (with children, a parent or a loved one) these are all things that affect their job performance.

Providing care for older family members is a fact of life for millions of Americans. According to a study by the University of Florida, one in ten American workers is a caregiver. Nearly 16 million Americans are trying to balance working and caregiving responsibilities.

By 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of workers ages 45-64 will make up 34% of the workforce. There are also new statistics that tell us employees between the ages of 18 -39 are starting to become caregivers to either their parents or grandparents. This is the group juggling job responsibilities with caregiving responsibilities. Complex issues associated with long-term care, elder care and disability care are affecting worker productivity. With the number of older Americans starting to skyrocket, things will only get worse for workers worrying about holding onto their jobs and holding their families together.

Each year businesses suffer a $29 billion loss in productivity due to absenteeism, workplace interruptions, care crises, and diverted supervisor time due to caregiving demands on their employees. (National Alliance of Caregiving/AARP study funded by MetLife).

Caregiving employees suffer more stress-related illnesses, which creates higher use of a company’s health care plan (in fact a recorded 8 additional visits per year) which all adds additional costs for the employer.

Look at it like this, it’s the flip side of child care demands. Child care arrangements fall through. Unexpected illnesses and doctor visits won’t wait. Transportation issues pop up. School demands and social events compete for time and attention. Many of the same issues face the caregiver of an older adult: Mom falls (this now puts you in crisis mode) then she will need to go to rehabilitation which now presents you with financial hardships and caregiving coverage, transportation, and the health matters of your loved one.

Some workers find the competing demands of work and caregiving to be too much for them to handle anymore and end up being forced to choose family over their jobs. AARP found that 11% of employees who are caregivers took a leave of absence. 7% took a reduction in hours. 3% turned down promotions. 10% quit altogether. This creates a serious financial and emotional toll on the employee caregiver.

When the caregiver has become the family care-taker of his or her own family, it puts a strain on the entire household (children, spouses, etc). Caregivers who enjoy their jobs and who are friends with their co-workers may become depressed and lonely after quitting. They have now assumed the role full-time caregiver and this becomes their identity. It appears there really is no “life outside of caregiving.”

Caregiving changes life as we know it

These circumstances I have just described don’t serve anyone well: not the workplace who loses a dedicated, experienced employee; not the caregiver, who is frustrated and headed for a meltdown; not the caregiver’s family who often ends up feeling neglected and shortchanged on time and attention; and not the older adult, who in extreme cases may become the victim of elder abuse by a frustrated, stressed, and even angry caregiver.

There are ways to help the caregiver manage this load. It is critical that employers learn to recognize that this is indeed becoming a problem and that they must be prepared. It is crucial for the well-being of the workplace that HR and executive management know how to address these needs and have the education and “know-how” to help their employees through these extremely difficult situations and life changing events.

After all, it is affecting their company’s bottom line and the lives of loyal employees who need to know that they are being supported in and through one of the most trying time of their lives.

For more resources and information on helping caregivers in the workplace stay tuned for creative and innovative ways companies are addressing this growing epidemic.

Photo Credit: thespacerace on Flickr 

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