#TBT: Elder Care in Your Workforce is an Even Bigger Issue Today

Caring for an Aging Parent & Working

Welcome to Solutions at Work #TBT. In the weeks to come, we'll be revisiting and reconsidering HR topics that have made news in the past. Come back every Thursday to see how HR, the workforce, and work/life topics are evolving.

"Three years down the drain."

That was Chief Human Resources Officer Dan Henry in 2014 summing up the quantitative impact of elder care numbers reported in a Gallup report.

"If you consider a company of 1000 people with one-in-six employees missing an average of 6.6 days annually, that," he wrote, summing up the findings of The Cost of Caregiving in the U.S. Economy report, "is 1,100 lost days - 3 years down the drain."

The numbers tell the story of how businesses are clearly among those impacted by the rise of the sandwich generation. But there's another story to be told.

Elder Care: The Narratives Behind the Numbers

A recent Bright Horizons webinar on caregiving gave voice to the narratives behind the numbers - the stories of people around the country stretched paper thin as they navigate the challenges of tending to jobs, children, and ailing adult relatives.

A sampling:

"Mom needs 24/7 care which is split between my sister and myself. We both work full time. How do we get a break?"

"It's so hard to feel pulled in different directions - work, children, parents, and oh yeah, spouse."

"Caring for my mother...I am a widow and an only child...this is not fair."

The despair was palpable, reminding employers that for the millions of people doing it, caregiving for adult relatives isn't an abstract concept, but a tangible, everyday event. And it isn't just Boomers. During the webinar, employees as young as their 20s identified themselves as "sandwiched." The Caregiving in the USA report by AARP report says that 60% of caregivers are working full time.

The Hidden Impacts of Elder Care on Productivity

In fact, for employees and the people who hire them, absenteeism is only one symptom. People connecting in the chat room during the webinar indicated a whole list of issues - exhaustion, physical illness, distraction among them. "Guilt, depression, anxiety, more guilt depression, anxiety" was how one participant summed up the caregiver cycle in her own life.

And the impact might not be immediately evident to employers. As discussed in these pages earlier, elder challenges aren't the kinds of things people tend to share around the water cooler. So while absenteeism may seem to be the first and most obvious (and perhaps most easily measurable) effect, it's likely also only the one that's easy to spot. One participant, for example, put the total care for her mother in the thousands of dollars per month. That kind of expense begets money worries, which begets financial stress, which we all know has a substantial impact on workplace well-being and performance.

So when an employee doesn't show up for work, that may be just the last domino to fall in a chain of disengagement and exhaustion that's been compromising the employee - and your productivity -- for months.

Elder Care as a Recruitment and Retention Issue

"We heard a lot of these kinds of things," said Bright Horizons' Marketing Manager LaDonna LaGuerre, who produced the webinar event. LaDonna found that while many people were interested in accessing their benefits, many more were looking beyond specific services. They wanted to find experts who could reassure them on process, help understanding their benefits, and to connect with other people who were in the same space.

For that reason, experts say assistance from employers does more than soften the tangible effects; it also reminds employees they matter, too. Webinar speaker Noreen Guanci, co-founder of Long Term Solutions, the elder care planning resource offered as part of Bright Horizons Care Advantage, said the thing that often gets lost in the equation is the caregiver him- or herself.  So employers who provide support offer valuable reminders to employees that they count.  And in the years to come, top talent will likely gravitate to employers who provide that foundation, supporting recruitment as well as performance.

What's clear, says Horizons Workforce Consulting's Andrea Wicks Bowles, who moderated the event, is that creating a culture where elder caregiving is acknowledged and supported is going to become increasingly essential.

As Dan's observation pointed out, it's not just about the employee. "It's also about making it possible," Andrea says, "for mid-career employees to engage throughout their changing life stages."

Learn more about how Bright Horizons Care Advantage supports both employees' elder care challenges and your organization's success.

Written by: Lisa Oppenheimer

About the Author

Lisa Oppenheimer at Bright Horizons

As Director, Brand Storytelling at Bright Horizons, Lisa writes “from the trenches” about the real life challenges of people in today’s workplaces: from the tensions of being a working mother, to working with millennials in the digital age, and everything in between. With a career ranging from freelance to full-time, Lisa brings a diverse employment background to her perspective.