Creating a Supportive Workplace for Family Caregivers
THOMAS R. LECHLEITER/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL AND ELEMENTS FROM ISTOCK BY GETTY IMAGES
Welcome back. I’m Joann S. Lublin, a regular Wall Street Journal contributor and its former career columnist. I’ve also written two leadership books about female executives. For today’s newsletter, I sought insights about why and how you should expand your eldercare benefits.
Joann S. Lublin
Caring for seniors has become a pervasive workplace dilemma amid the pandemic, tight labor market and spread of multigenerational workforces. Almost everyone I interviewed for this piece described their current or recent care for an older relative. Indeed, I couldn’t finish my reporting until an important source moved her parents to a different nursing home.
About 63% of the 40.4 million Americans who give unpaid care to someone at least 65 years old also are employed, the Labor Department reported in late 2019. Those numbers likely will soar as the huge baby-boom generation gets grayer and the pandemic’s impact is clearer. By 2034, adults over 65 will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history, the Census Bureau predicts.
As the population ages, “eldercare benefits are going to have to be offered more widely,’’ says Bob Stephen, vice president of family caregiving and health programs at AARP, an advocacy organization for older adults.
There are already signs of increased employer interest in aiding their workers with eldercare needs. Bright Horizons Family Solutions Inc., which offers educational and care services for every stage of life, provides eldercare services to 158 U.S. employers. That’s nearly quadruple the 42 served in March 2020.
While employer costs range from a little to a lot, proponents say eldercare assistance improves productivity and reduces turnover. Here are five benefits that you should consider offering:
Training: Teaching people “where to start on elder caregiving can be very valuable,’’ especially for smaller employers unable to afford fancier options, Mr. Stephen says.
AARP created two free courses so employers can educate their workers about eldercare and its costs. The program attracted greater employer interest during the pandemic as elder caregiving increased.
This year, AARP launched three more such employee workshops covering additional topics such as adapting a home for caregiving and self-care for working family caregivers. The group will soon start charging for its courses, but has yet to determine the fees.
Flexible Work: Flexibility—from compressed workweeks and part-time hours to work-from-home options—makes a huge difference to stressed-out caregivers.
About 95% of 1,005 employed adults caring for a parent or parent-in-law prefer flexible schedules to manage their work-life balance, concluded a July 2022 survey by Home Instead Inc., a franchised provider of home services for older people. Flexible schedules won higher support than all other possible employer actions covered by its poll.
Half of these caregivers said they had been passed over for a promotion due to those responsibilities. However, 71% agreed they could be a much better employee “with a little more flexibility from their employer.’’
So, “give people the time they need to fulfill their eldercare responsibilities,’’ says Jisella Dolan, chief global advocacy officer of Home Instead. She was helping her nearly 75-year-old mother recover from knee-replacement surgery on the day we spoke.
Referral Services: Arranging immediate or long-term care for an aging loved one often poses a formidable challenge. No wonder. Millions of results pop up when you search Google for “eldercare.’’
To cut through the information overload, some companies enlist external coaches who advise employees and quickly identify eldercare resources. In July 2020, law firm McDermott Will & Emery began giving U.S. staffers access to credentialed “care guides” at Homethrive Inc., a family eldercare coordinator.
“We have heard only positive feedback about this benefit,’’ says Ruthlyn Alleyne, McDermott’s director of total rewards. “We are giving our workforce back hundreds of hours a month in time that would have otherwise been spent locating these resources, stressing over the safety of their loved ones and navigating the U.S.’s complicated healthcare system.’’
Care Subsidies: Backup eldercare fills temporary gaps in regular arrangements. It’s typically pricier than certain eldercare perks, though costs vary by employer, experts say.
Nevertheless, backup care is gaining popularity.
In the U.S., Ernst & Young pays for 24 days a year of emergency backup eldercare, double the number it covered until 2021. Many working for the big accounting and consulting firm juggle both elder- and child-care demands, says Karyn Twaronite, EY’s global vice chair for diversity, equity and inclusiveness. “It’s our job to alleviate some of that pressure,” she adds.
Similarly, Adobe Inc. covers up to 20 days a year of substitute eldercare. But that’s not all. If Bright Horizons can’t find a suitable caregiver, the technology giant reimburses employees $100 a day for their preferred alternative—including a relative.
The highly popular subsidies boost recruitment and retention “because people have the need,” says Rosemary Arriada-Keiper, Adobe’s vice president of total rewards.
Substantial Paid Leave: Adobe also supplements vacation and sick time through paid family leave. Staffers who suspend work to care for an immediate family member collect full salaries for as long as five weeks.
“That would probably be our most expensive benefit,’’ adds Ms. Arriada-Keiper. She received three weeks of paid family leave in late 2019 after her mother underwent double hip surgery.
At AARP, employees get two weeks of annual paid leave for elder caregiving. Mr. Stephen says a majority have used the perk since its introduction about five years ago.
Yet, paid family leave doesn’t exist nationwide. Nor have any U.S. employers assisted working caregivers by opening an adult day-care center on their premises, according to AARP.
Clearly, eldercare benefits remain a work in progress. “There’s more to be done from the employer standpoint,’’ notes Priya Krishnan, chief client and experience officer for Bright Horizons.
Continued Below: What Employers Need to Know About Caregivers; Want to Get Ahead? Pick the Right Company
Research Spotlight: What Employers Need to Know About Caregivers
ILLUSTRATION: MARTIN TOGNOLA
Most employers aren't aware of how many of their workers are caring for others at home. An estimated 18% to 22% of U.S. workers provide care for an elderly, sick or disabled family member, according to the white paper “ Invisible Overtime: What Employers Need to Know About Caregivers ” from the nonprofit Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers. Among other findings:
Caregiver employees provide an average of 20 unpaid caregiving hours a week. Most caregiver employees are full-time workers and are represented in all occupational categories, with just over half working in hourly positions and about 40% in salaried positions.
Close to one-third of caregiver employees have voluntarily left a job at some point during their careers because of their caregiving responsibilities. Reasons for leaving include an inability to find affordable paid help, inability to find high-quality help and difficulty meeting work demands because of increased caregiving responsibilities.
The estimated average productivity loss due to presenteeism per caregiver employee was almost 11% and the average annualized at-work productivity cost was $5,281, assuming an hourly wage of $25. Caregiver employees missed an average of 3.2 workdays in the prior month, an estimated average productivity loss of 2.2%, or $1,123 per caregiver employee.
The programs and policies available to caregiver employees are inadequate, according to the report. “Workplace and public policies designed to support caregiver employees are not widespread and evidence of their effects is needed.”
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These are among the findings of a new five-year analysis of career mobility for millions of U.S. workers led by Philadelphia think tank Burning Glass Institute, focusing on jobs that don’t necessarily require a college degree. Certain companies, it turns out, excel at helping workers in these jobs move up the career and pay ladder. At other firms careers can stagnate, even within the same industry. New skills at those firms don’t always translate into promotions, higher wages or more opportunities to advance.
Getting ahead, the study concludes, is largely a matter of picking the right company. Tracking which companies provide more mobility could be critical for workers as the labor market loosens, companies slow hiring and the future of the U.S. economy becomes more uncertain. A weaker labor market means fewer options for workers, making initial career choices that much more important. Employers could develop a hiring advantage if they can demonstrate the ability to identify and advance new recruits, especially Americans without college degrees who have the skills for higher-wage work.
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Freelancer and author Jamie Brindle, who dispenses advice about building your own business to his hundreds of thousands of social-media followers, tells the As We Work podcast how to effectively ask for more money and keep clients coming back. Listen here.