Employees and Their Aging Parents

Employees need to adapt to numerous challenges when caring for aging parents.  They need to discover what resources are available, often in communities in other states or another country.  This frequently involves taking time from work to call doctors or social workers, home care providers and rehabilitation facilities.  They may have to travel to parents to help assess needs and establish care.

According to a recent study by MetLife, employees caring for an aging relative are more likely to suffer from health problems themselves.  Depression, diabetes, hypertension or heart disease are the most common issues, costing employers an additional average of 8% per year.  It also found that younger caregivers (age 18-39) cost their employers 11% more for health care than non-caregivers, while male care-givers cost an additional 18%.  In addition, eldercare may also be associated with other high-risk behaviors like smoking and alcohol consumption.

Employers often face lost productivity by their care-giving employees.  The same report found that 9% of working caregivers were forced to cut back or stop working.  3% took early retirement, 6% resigned and 10% reduced their hours to part-time.

How can employers retain valuable (and experienced) employees who find themselves in this situation?  Following are some suggestions:

· Provide a dependent care resource and referral program that covers national and international services.  Typically these programs are funded 100% by the employer.

· Offer a geriatric care management program.  This will match employees with care managers who are knowledgeable about local, community resources and can provide one-on-one care and assessment.  This is typically paid for by the employee.

· Provide flexible work schedules to allow employees to adjust their time schedule when needs arise.  This may include telecommuting, part-time work and flextime hours.  This supportive work environment will result in higher productivity, loyalty and fewer employee health issues.

· Offer education in the form of workshops or webinars about long-term care insurance, long distance care giving, wellness, or financial planning.  Ask around for free or low-cost options.

· Provide training to managers, making sure they are prepared for common issues and that they will be sensitive to employees’ needs.

Assisting employees is not just a feel-good solution.  The MetLife study reports that for every dollar spent helping workers with eldercare issues saved $3 to $5.  To help determine the cost for your company, you may wish to use their calculator at www.eldercarecalculator.org.

From Employee Benefit News, May 2010 issue, pp. 50-51.