Eldercare is the new frontier of work-family balance
Guest Blog by Colin Grange, Clinical Director of LifeWorks
Supporting carers to stay in work is becoming a major challenge for employers according to the Work and Pensions Committee. Nine pilot projects it commissioned in 2015 exploring ways to help carers balance employment with caring responsibilities and employer best practice were completed in January this year; we await the published report.
Colin looks at the growing issue of eldercarers in the workplace and its impact.
Eldercare is a growing workplace issue as the numbers of workers caring for an elderly family member rises. Carers UK reports that there are three million working carers, representing one in eight in the workplace; a significant proportion of which are eldercarers. With an ageing population, longer living, extended working lives and a squeeze on social services, the number of working eldercarers is set to soar. The organisation predicts that by 2037 there will be nine million carers in the UK.
Around 85% of these carers, the majority of whom are women, are the ‘sandwich generation’, caring for offspring as well as elderly parents. And there is a growing number of the ‘club sandwich generation’ too; baby boomers taking care of older parents, as well as millennial children and grandchildren.
This ‘demographic pincer’ has been brewing for a while. Adults are living longer; up 5 years since 1995 and women are having children later. Numbers of UK mothers who gave birth to their first child aged 35 or older doubled between 1995 and 2015. Yet the focus in the workplace is generally on supporting parents with school age children. It’s acceptable to take time off to look after a sick child, but less so to look after an elderly relative. Most companies have family friendly policies in place, but only 9% currently include eldercare support.
With the peak age of caring between 50-64, employers are at risk of losing some of their most experienced and skilled employees. Figures show that already 2.3m have given up work to care and 3m have reduced their working hours. Research by Eldercare says that over a quarter are contemplating reducing their working hours, with 15% wanting to quit their job completely.
Working carers report that their duties significantly and negatively impact their lives: 61% said their physical health had worsened and 70% said their mental health had suffered (Carers UK). Finances can be significantly impacted too, creating more worry.
Employees bring their care giving stress to work and are less productive and more prone to absence as a result. Three in five say that a relative has had an incident requiring medical attention, such as a fall, whilst they were at work and 21% have left work at short notice to provide urgent care. Carers UK estimates it costs UK business £3.5bn a year in productivity, recruitment and replacement costs.
The situation will only worsen and employers need to respond urgently to this social change. Last year, Care Minister David Mowat put the onus firmly on families, saying that tackling the social care crisis requires people to take responsibility for looking after their elderly parents as they do their own children.
But employees are concerned about the stigmas associated with caring for an elderly parent and think it may impact negatively on their career. What can companies do to support the growing number of working eldercarers and keep them in the workplace, not to mention attract carers who would like to work?
Agile and flexible working – this is one of the most helpful things employers can do enabling eldercarers to better balance work and caring responsibilities and deal with unexpected issues and crisis.
Train managers – make managers aware of the issues eldercarers face, identify signs of related stress and how to open and manage conversations with a sympathetic ear.
Promote eldercare services available through existing EAPs – awareness is very low and staff don’t know that help is readily available. Services include advice and information on elder-care options, entitlements, legal and financial considerations, the social care system, and signposting to resources and help organisations. They can also undertake bespoke research, for example, provide a shortlist of local nursing or care homes with availability and prices. Counselling is also available for the carer if clinically required.
Leadership champions – senior people in the organisation with elder caring responsibilities can help open up the conversation by sharing their experiences through internal newsletters, meetings and intranet.
Create a specific carers policy or passport – have all resources, support initiatives and company policies in one place. In a passport, detail the carers responsibilities so that managers and HR are aware in advance. Centrica claims that their Carer Passport scheme has contributed to £4.5 million savings from reduced absenteeism and other savings through better staff retention.
Set up a carers support group – something as simple as a monthly group meeting can provide valuable support where carers can share experiences and information.
Offer emergency elder care services in employee benefits – this can provide short notice care for unexpected events, reducing stress and absenteeism.
There is growing evidence that employers who support carers see improved service delivery, cost savings and increased productivity. When 3 in 5 people will be carers at some point in their lives, it makes business and economic sense to help keep them in the workplace.