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And Mother, Too

For some employees, saying "yes" or "no" to a relocation assignment can hinge on whether Mom or Dad can come too, and be cared for properly in unfamiliar territory. With more baby boomers facing such choices now, employers are looking for ways to help them with these complicated arrangements.

Thursday, April 1, 2010
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Managing director for ADP in China. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

Amer Akhtar certainly thought so. When faced with the chance to change positions at the business-solutions giant starting in April 2009, he thought about how exciting it would be to move from Atlanta to China and help develop the company in one of the world's fastest growing markets.

The opportunity became even sweeter when CEO Gary Butler personally asked him to take the job, telling him how important the expansion of business in China was to the company's future -- and to his career, as Akhtar recalls.

"When the CEO of a Fortune 200 company personally asks you to consider a position, it's usually hard to say 'no,' " says Akhtar, who was previously running ADP Resource, a branch of the business offering HR services.

The new job would take him to Shanghai for three years, but Akhtar thought it might be too expensive to relocate, since he not only needed to move with his wife and three children, but they'd need to take someone else along as well: his 79-year-old mother-in-law, Hilda.

While ADP, based in Roseland, N.J., has a policy of moving anyone who lives in the home -- dependent children and parents alike -- any other assistance is offered on a case-by-case basis.

HR leaders at the company felt that incorporating Hilda in the relocation package was the right move, but following through on that decision took a significant investment from the company. ADP had to pay for another flight to China. Since the family home in Shanghai needed an extra bedroom, housing costs went up. The company also agreed to include Hilda in all its counseling sessions with the family before and during the move.

Rebecca Kirschbaum, senior director of corporate relocation and real-estate assistance at ADP, reports that including Akhtar's mother-in-law did "exponentially raise" the cost of the relocation -- but such an investment is well worth it.

"The growth of our business in China is on [Akhtar's] shoulders," she says. "We recognize that, while it's expensive ... the big picture of the growth of our China business [depends] on him being successfully relocated. If somebody's uncomfortable and spending time worrying about family needs, they can't concentrate on the work. I think ADP's [leaders] recognized that [and] that's why they were open to moving his mother-in-law."

What ADP faced in Akhtar's case is an issue more and more companies could be facing in the near future -- whether or not to extend all their relocation benefits to an elder parent, in-law or relative. Consider, first, that the overall workforce is aging: There were 27 million working adults ages 55 and over in January 2010, compared to 18 million in January 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Given that increase, the number of people taking care of an elder parent or in-law in the United States is 34 million, according to the most updated statistics from AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans.

Hilda was included in the pre-decision and pre-move programs provided by the company's human resource, relocation, immigration and compensation teams prior to the move. ADP highlighted food-safety precautions the family should look out for when they got to Shanghai, such as staying away from locally produced milk and strawberries because of pesticides (much to the disappointment of the Akhtar's kids, who ate strawberries by the dozens in the United States).

ADP also made sure to explain how respectfully the locals in China treat the elderly. Today, for example, when she walks down the street in Shanghai with her cane, people continually try to grab her arm to help her down the street. For an independent person like Hilda, that took some getting used to.

"My mother-in-law is actually more respected here than [she ever was] in any city in the United States," says Akhtar, who has been in Shanghai for almost a year now. "Nobody rushes her along; people want to help her. She's not used to it."

Then there's the big issue -- healthcare. In the days leading up to their move, Hilda took healthcare matters into her own hands.

"We didn't see her for a week because she basically went to every single doctor to take care of everything and came back with a ton of medicine," says Akhtar, who worked with ADP and a destination-services provider in Shanghai to secure quality coverage (notoriously difficult in China, says Kirschbaum) for his mother-in-law. He plans to continue his ongoing search for quality doctors in the area and make sure that any trip back to the United States means a doctor's visit for his children and mother-in-law.

For international moves such as this, companies typically seek the outside help of destination-service providers to identify doctors, pharmacies and local medical facilities in the new location, says Russ Haynie, director of the global consulting group for Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services based in Irvine, Calif.

Domestic moves are much easier, he says, rarely requiring significant healthcare changes for elder dependents -- in those cases, companies usually just help the families find good doctors and pharmacies.

With relocation continuing to be an integral part of doing business globally, more organizations are sure to confront potential expat assignees who need to bring Mom or Dad along -- especially given the demographic shifts -- and experts say they would be wise to think about their offerings sooner rather than later.

So far, however, just 17 percent of U.S.-based companies offer any type of elder-care relocation assistance and most of them do it on case-by-case bases, according to Family Issues 2008, a study by Worldwide ERC, a Washington-based membership organization for the relocation industry.

In fact, elder-care support for relocation assignments was the least likely form of family assistance provided, according to the survey. Transferees are much more likely to request childcare and schooling assistance, it found.

Either companies haven't yet felt the full brunt of the demographic shifts, or they aren't prepared, experts say. In cases where companies have made this still-rare leap, the most common form of formal assistance was relocating an elderly parent (living in the family home) along with the family. (See sidebar for a full breakdown of the most common elder-care offerings.)

Settled Home = Happy Employee

Some companies -- ADP included -- consider it good business to move a senior family member with an employee, and they try to tackle any potential problems in the move's earliest phase, the pre-decision discussion process. In today's business environment, those conversations are dominated by home values and sale prices (especially with the real-estate market still struggling), but the elder-care issue is creeping into the dialogue more and more, says Kirschbaum.

About 5 percent of her company's relocatees are currently asking for elder-care relocation assistance, she says, but she expects that number to rise significantly. "I think, in the next couple of years, you are going to see a shift and [elder-care relocation issues] are going to become very important" because of the aging workforce, says Kirschbaum.

Ann-Marie Schwein, a consultant at the St. Louis-based global relocation company Impact Group, says more and more businesses are offering elder-care services for the same reasons they offer child-care services. A happy, settled home equals a happy, settled employee who can be energized and focus on the job at hand.

"We all know, with our lives being the way they are, there are things that creep into work lives and draw our attentions away from our jobs during the day," she says, "and not having to worry about a big issue like elder care is a very valid thing."

Schwein recalls consulting for a company that was moving an employee from Michigan to Connecticut. The employee was caring for his 92-year-old father, who still drove and lived an active life, tending to his garden and even exercising.

Before deciding whether to relocate, he wanted to make sure his dad could continue his active lifestyle in Connecticut. So Schwein got him connected with a local gardening club and a community center with senior activities such as Nintendo Wii, shuffleboard, community meals and health screenings. She also identified easily traversed walking trails and provided public-transportation options (just in case his driving didn't last).

With the senior set up for an easy transition to his new life in Connecticut, the employee decided to go through with the relocation. So far, it's been a success, says Schwein.

Another company that strongly supports elder-care relocation is McGraw-Hill Cos., the financial, education and business publishing company in New York. It provides elder-care relocation benefits by simply applying the company's existing senior benefits to relocating families.

For example, any worker at McGraw-Hill can enroll one adult family member -- other than his or her spouse -- in the health-insurance plan at family rates; however, this option does not apply to people 65 and over when Medicare becomes available, says company spokesman Jason Feuchtwanger.

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The company also provides six hours of free case management, whereby a social worker can help the senior identify hospitals, doctors, nursing homes, senior centers and activities in the new location. If an elder family member is mildly ill or just needs companionship, the company will send a health aide to spend time with him or her. And the price is right: just $6 per hour for employees.

The company also provides a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $1,000, to help pay for senior healthcare expenses, offers caretaking employees flexible work schedules and telecommuting options, and provides free legal consultations.

Purse Strings

While such programs benefit employees as well as their elder dependents, they do present additional costs to the company. With purse strings tighter in the current economy, are they worth the extra price?

Schwein says they are -- especially since elder-care benefits are most often extended to high-level executives. Companies benefit greatly from transferring an employee who stays in the right position for the long haul, she says. It can be even more costly if a relocation fails because the company has to find someone new to take his or her place while, at the same time, the work isn't being done.

Companies can use metrics to figure out if a relocation assignment is going well, measuring things such as productivity and performance, she says. Though no such numbers are currently available, she adds, it's been her experience that an employee whose elder-care situation is settled will do better than an employee whose family is having difficulties.

Schwein says she believes companies will be increasingly more willing to pay for such benefits as time passes and aging boomers continue working. Years ago, she says, companies relocating workers would not have paid for childcare benefits such as daycare or schooling, but such benefits are now commonplace.

"I feel the same way with elder care. It might take a little while, but it's a valuable thing," says Schwein. "It might [immediately impact] the bottom line, but in long run, it's a value-add and, if a company has something like this set up, it is going to influence the employee to move."

Prudential's Haynie says companies today are pickier about who they relocate, tending to go with more experienced workers rather than using relocation as a career-development tool, which was common practice before the recession. With many companies struggling, he says, they need the right person in the right job -- and the stakes are high.

It probably goes without saying that workers with more experience tend to be older and have a much greater chance of being responsible for the care of an elderly parent or in-law (not to mention a child at the other end of the age spectrum).

"Organizations are having to overcome the reluctance [their more experienced] employees may have for accepting relocation offers by implementing more formalized provisions [for elder care]," says Haynie.

More and more companies are expanding their definition of "dependent" to include elder parents, so they can be included in house-hunting and interview trips, and can have their possessions moved from location to location, says Haynie.

"Some relocation policies really limit eligibility to dependent children without even making mention of elderly dependents," he says.

And that's a big mistake, he adds.

Many companies are too narrowly focused on trying to sell the relocatee's home in today's troubled real-estate market to put their energy into the elder-care issue, he says.

"I'd be hard-pressed to say that [relocating elders] is the No. 1 concern of organizations right now," says Haynie. "Organizations are worried about getting people to move and being able to sell their houses, and employees who are homeowners are certainly worried about that, too."

But there is a glimmer of hope that companies may start taking the issue more seriously.

In dealing with the real-estate issue, many companies -- such as ADP -- are now using pre-decision counseling sessions to determine if it's economically feasible to sell a home and move to a new location. But that relatively new process (Prudential found it to be the No. 1 new relocation policy change for companies, according to Haynie) has allowed those companies to discuss other issues that can halt a relocation, including family concerns.

Now, companies and families have a forum for an employee to discuss an elder-care issue and get guidance -- which should help the relocation industry going forward.

"There wasn't a conversation before because the economy wasn't driving it," says Haynie, "but now that there is, I think we have an opportunity as an industry to make sure that these questions get inserted into those conversations.

"I really, strongly believe," he adds, "that this is one area of relocation policy where a company can very minimally increase its investment with really big dividends in terms of employee satisfaction."

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