How To Support Workers With Parents
While most companies today recognize the need to support working parents, too few have acknowledged the need to also support workers with parents. And yet, millions of working Americans are caring for an aging parent or relative, often with very little support.
A recent New York Times article highlighted daughter care, “the essential role that daughters play in the American health care system.” Citing the JAMA Neurology medical journal, the article referred to the growing number of people, typically women, caring for family members with dementia as, “a looming crisis for women and their employers.” And indeed it is.
Our rapidly aging society, and the weak infrastructure we have in place to support our seniors, costs caregivers – especially female caregivers – up to $300,000 in lost wages and benefits. That’s because workers with parents often reduce their responsibilities or their hours at work, or quit altogether, in order to make time for caregiving. In turn, caregiving costs employers between $17.1 and $33.6 billion, depending on the intensity of the situation, according to a MetLife study. These losses come from absenteeism, workplace interruptions, and employee replacement costs.
Isn’t it time your organization addressed eldercare and how it impacts the workplace? Here are 5 steps you can take now to get ready for daughter, and son, care and support workers with parents:
- Recognize that family-friendly means all family, not just kids. Make sure your language and policies are inclusive. It’s great that you’re now offering paternity care as well as maternity care. But do you have a leave plan for employees who need to care for a family member other than a child?
- Develop a mentor program. While no two eldercare situations are the same and no two employees will approach their caregiving responsibilities in the same way, having a peer to talk to about the challenges of eldercare can go a long way in helping a caregiving employee feel supported. Eldercare can be an isolating experience and employees often feel like they are the only ones affected. That’s because there are no rituals or celebrations, like baby showers and sharing newborn photos, that we have when employees become parents. An informal mentoring program can go a long way in supporting working caregivers.
- Establish clear guidelines around flex time. You may think you are a flexible organization, allowing employees to take personal time in chunks, or allowing work from home days, and that’s a great. But unless you have established very clear expectations around how flex works in your organization, employees may feel guilty accessing those benefits. One of the challenges of eldercare is that it is so unpredictable. You never know when a parent might get sick or fall, or that a paid caregiver might call in sick. Make flex benefits simple to understand and remove any stigma around using them.
- Consider backup eldercare programs. If you offer backup childcare services, why not offer backup eldercare services too? When a caregiver calls out sick, your caregiving employee often has no choice but to do the same. You can alleviate that stress on your employer, and your business, by providing backup options.
- Offer referrals and subsidies for eldercare services. Caregivers often struggle to find convenient and reliable help and resources that help them care for their aging parents. Task your HR department with building a database of companies and services to which they can refer your employees – from financial planners to senior living referrals to concierge services. Better yet, offer subsidies for these services.
Eldercare will impact your business, if it hasn’t already. Planning ahead will help you and your employees manage this work/life challenge.
Liz O’Donnell is the founder of WorkingDaughter.com.