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Caring For the Caregivers

Six in 10 Americans provide some form of caregiving to a loved one in their family, and 40 percent are sandwich-generation caregivers, providing support for both their parents and children. Recent studies indicate that the stress of juggling a job with caregiving takes a considerable toll on the health of the worker -- costing employers billions. However, many employers have taken significant steps to alleviate that stress.

This article accompanies And Mother, Too.

Thursday, April 1, 2010
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According to a recent study from Metlife, employees in the United States who care for older relatives are more likely to report significant health problems.

These often stress-related health issues, including depression, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, cost employers an estimated average additional healthcare cost of 8 percent, or $13.4 billion annually.

Caregivers ages 18 to 39 cost their employers 11 percent more for healthcare than non-caregivers, while male caregivers cost the most -- an additional 18 percent.

Moreover, elder care is closely associated with high-risk behaviors such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.  

Aggravating the potential impact to employers is the possibility that these medical conditions may lead to disability-related absences. And not surprisingly, employees with eldercare responsibilities missed more days of work than non-caregivers, have more unplanned absences and show a lack of focus on their work due to distractions.

These distractions, which include phone calls and care coordination, often compromise job performance. In fact, according to the MetLife Caregiving Cost Study, the cost to U.S. businesses from the lost productivity of working caregivers is more than $33 billion per year.

If employers can help reduce the stressors, they will lower their healthcare costs.

Enlightened Employers Provide Support

 

Given the impact on the caregiver, we're seeing an increasing number of employers offering assistance to caregiving employees. In fact, the 2008 National Study of Employers (Families and Work Institute) found that, while there were no changes in the way employers provided assistance to families with childcare between 1998 and 2008, more employers today (30 percent) than in 1998 (23 percent), provide access to information about services for older family members.

Small employers (24 percent) are much less likely to provide elder care resources and referral services than large employers (54 percent). However, small employers (75 percent) are just as likely as large employers (72 percent) to provide time off to employees to provide elder care without jeopardizing their jobs.

What we're seeing overall is that the best employers anticipate and respond to these problems with systems and procedures that provide needed support for the caregivers.

Below are some of the more innovative strategies and tactics various organizations have initiated.

Subsidized (or Free) Back-up Care

Offering elder-care benefits was a wise business decision for Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. By providing employees with up to 20 days of back-up care a year for each elderly dependent, the hospital frees up its caregivers from emergency responsibilities and enjoys the benefit of their presence in the workplace where they are responsible for direct patient care.

Bright Horizons provides the hospital's back-up care. In particular, its adult-care management services are provided through LifeWorks, a service offered by the Ceridian Corp. The hospital's entire staff of 4,200 employees, including full-time, part-time and contingent workers, may take advantage of these free benefits.

By calling LifeWorks, employees can also arrange for in-person assessments of their older relatives' environments, functional capabilities, options for services or for changes in residence. Employees may also arrange check-in services by telephone or in-person to keep watchful eyes on their relatives' conditions and care.

Health Advocacy Services

Sorting out the various issues surrounding complex healthcare benefit eligibility and related administrative issues can be overwhelming. That's why some employers, such as SunTrust, an Atlanta-based regional banking company, now offer health-advocacy services as part of their benefits package to help caregiving employees navigate the bureaucracies involving Medicare, etc.

Employee Donations of Sick and Vacation Time

Some organizations, such as American Electric Power and the University of Alabama, offer employees the option of donating time to a specific individual in need; other organizations have "pools" to which people may donate their sick or vacation days so that co-workers may have the time off as needed. Most organizations require people to keep at least a few sick days for their own needs.

Flexibility

Chairman and CEO Jim Turley of Ernst & Young says the firm "provides its workers with a high level of flexibility so they can deal with the unexpected in their lives and custom-build their own work/life balance." Obviously, the application of this benefit to elder-care issues is important for all.

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Counseling

Headquartered in Kansas City, Mo., Hallmark Cards, named a 2009 Working Mother 100 Best Company, has contracted elder-care counselors to help its employees cope with elder care responsibilities. In addition, the family-friendly company provides elder-care speakers to educate sandwich-generation staffers on important aging-related topics, such as Alzheimer's and Medicaid benefits.

Employee Support Groups

At PricewaterhouseCoopers, U.S. Chairman and Senior Partner Bob Moritz says the organization believes that "courageous leadership includes taking the long view [which often] means doing the right thing for your people -- even during challenging times."

New PwC programs, such as its Special Needs Caregivers Circle, make a big impact by helping people find the resources they need to manage their work and personal responsibilities. Freddie Mac also offers monthly support groups for those caring for family members and provides emergency elder home care, for which employees pay only $15 a day. 

In-home Consultation

For a $100 co-payment, Prudential Financial Inc. lets workers hire a geriatric-care specialist who will visit an elderly parent's home and draw up a complete care plan or evaluate a nursing facility, even in out-of-state, according to the Wall Street Journal. At AstraZeneca, employees can get six hours a year with a geriatric-care expert who will go to their homes or nursing homes. 

Other Effective Programs

Publisher McGraw-Hill permits employees to enroll one other adult family member, which may be an elderly relative, in their health-insurance plans at regular family rates. Also, through their employee-assistance programs, many companies offer referral services as well as on-site consultation.

Return on Eldercare Investment

It doesn't take a genius to realize that reducing stress for your employees will result in lower healthcare costs. But there are many other benefits as well. Elder-care services improve morale and productivity, and reduce employee turnover. With all of these advantages for employers, it is a wonder that more companies aren't looking for ways to support their caregiving employees.

Joyce Gioia (joy-yah), a workforce futurist and CEO of Employer of Choice Inc., is the author of five business books, including two business bestsellers. For additional insights, Gioia is available for seminars, workshops and keynote presentations and may be reached directly at 336.282.9370; joyce@hermangroup.com.

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