A working Mom or Dad just a few years ago struggled with juggling business with parenting responsibilities. But an aging population, dispersed family members, and young adults waiting longer to start a family have thrown a third pin into the juggling routine. Now millions of Americans are taking care of aging relatives too. These added responsibilities are beginning to take their toll on even the most dedicated employees.
While on the surface the problem of the caregiver seems to be a personal one, its impact has a much more insidious and pervasive effect in the workplace.
Caregivers often face difficult, stress-inducing decisions about how to allocate time, money, and resources. The situation is exacerbated when the employee is a working Baby Boomer or older Generation X who is sandwiched between both the ailing parent and school aged children. This group of adults caring for both parents and children is being called The Sandwich Generation.
Caregiver distraction is having a growing impact upon productivity. For example, consider a day in the life of the typical employee caregiver.
Often the “average” worker is a female in her mid-40s with two school aged children. Mom or Dad, possibly in his or her 70s and 80s, live several hundred miles away. For whatever reason – only child, oldest sibling, most affluent, most caring, etc. – this individual has been designated caregiver for her parents. During the typical day of scheduled meetings with clients, the employee is interrupted by 2 or 3 phone calls from the home care worker dealing with Mom’s dementia and running Dad to his doctor’s appointment. When the parent’s nurse calls to report a problem or a child is hurt or sick, focus at work is shifted anywhere but on the job. Those interruptions don’t even include the texts and phone calls from children and spouses/partners.
The term for this physically present but emotionally distracted worker is presenteeism. If presenteeism was incidental and occasional, employers would have no worries. The bad news is that this situation repeats itself every day in nearly every workplace and the cost of presenteeism resulting from working caregivers is escalating rapidly. The average cost per employee for those with intense caregiving responsibilities is $2,441.The total estimated cost to employers for all full-time, employed caregivers is $33.6 billion. (Source: AgingInfo USA)
A new study by the AARP estimates that 1 in 4 American Adults are providing care for an aging loved one. Not all these adults are employed, but a growing percentage of workers are. More than 62 percent of these employee caregivers say that they make workplace adjustments such as arriving late, leaving early, taking leaves of absence, and changing their status to part-time.
The proportion of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years. The AARP study also finds that family members spend an average 20 hours a week providing care. Overall, caregiving sons and daughters provide comparable care in many respects, but daughters are more likely to provide basic care and sons are more likely to provide financial assistance.
For the more than 40 million Americans caring for an elderly or disabled loved one, the value of their work is $450 billion a year. The toll borne by caregivers isn’t just financial either.
Adult children 50 years and older who work and provide care to a parent are more likely to have fair or poor health than those who do not provide care to their parents. Thirty-one percent of adult caregivers report stress, anxiety, or depression. The added caregiving responsibilities can add as much as 8 percent in health care costs for employers. Seventy percent also report making work accommodations due to caregiving; and 53% say that they lose time with friends and family.
Employers face a multitude of challenges in managing and growing a productive workforce. An increase in caregiving responsibilities is insidiously affecting the performance of millions of working adults. The additional personal responsibilities can distract even the most dedicated and committed employee.
In an effort to help caregivers find a balance, the AARP and the National Family Caregivers Association provide a lot of tips and resources, and the MetLife Mature Market Institute offers a list of financial considerations.