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An Extra Pair of Hands

As the workforce ages, more employees find themselves in need of immediate professional assistance to help balance work with caring for elderly loved ones. Back-up elder-care services can help them carry the load at home while staying productive on the job.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013
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This past summer, Mark Goldberg found himself in a situation that a growing number of workers have come to understand all too well.

A 41-year-old global wellness manager at international law firm Latham & Watkins' New York office, Goldberg was spending a long 4th of July weekend with family at his mother's home in central New Jersey.

As he had done many times before, he planned to catch a train back to Manhattan that Sunday night in time to decompress and prepare for a new work week ahead.

In the days before his departure, however, the physical well-being of Goldberg's grandfather -- 100 years old at the time and a resident at his mother's home -- had begun to rapidly deteriorate.

"There was a sudden downturn," he says. "He quickly started needing someone there throughout the day to help him get out of a chair, for example. [For so long], he didn't need that kind of help. Then one day he did."

Up to that point, Goldberg's mother had essentially served as his grandfather's primary caregiver -- taking him shopping, driving him to doctors' appointments, helping him navigate stairs, tending to medical issues, and so forth.

But, at age 71 and dealing with her own age-induced aches and pains, she found these growing responsibilities were taking a physical and psychological toll on her.

"There were times when she just wasn't able or available to take care of him," says Goldberg. "That's when things became difficult to manage."

Given the circumstances, Goldberg didn't feel right returning to New York just yet. But while his family unquestionably came first, he had responsibilities at Latham & Watkins.

"If I really needed to take time off, it wouldn't have been a problem," he says. "But sometimes, you're in charge of things -- projects -- at work. You don't want to just disappear and leave everyone else in the lurch. But you also don't want to do that to your family."

Goldberg didn't have to do either.  

With one late-night phone call to Watertown, Mass.-based Bright Horizons Family Solutions -- Latham & Watkins' back-up elder-care-service provider -- he arranged to have a qualified caregiver arrive at the family's home the next morning while he tended to affairs at work and got his ducks lined up for a return trip to New Jersey early on Tuesday.

The following day, he was able to work remotely from his mother's home, where the caregiver remained. "I could still take calls, work on my laptop, etc.," he says. "But I had someone upstairs taking care of my grandfather's immediate needs, so I could focus on time-sensitive work that needed to get done."

At his age, Goldberg is very much a member of Generation X. This age cohort -- generally including those born between 1961 and 1981 -- sits at a unique intersection on the workplace demographic chart, as it begins to shoulder the load of caring for aging parents as well as young children, in addition to duties at work. And, the baby boomers who preceded them -- many of whom worked through young parenthood and are now delaying retirement -- are certainly no strangers to this balancing act. With these large segments of the workforce and their loved ones getting older, more employers may look at back-up elder-care services to help their employees stay focused at work while their family members get the immediate attention they need. 

Rising Responsibilities

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 40 million people had responsibility for an elder's care in 2012. AARP Public Policy Institute data indicates 49 percent of the U.S. workforce expects to be providing elder care by 2015. According to Washington-based AARP, 68 percent of caregivers report having made work accommodations -- including cutting back on hours or even quitting their jobs -- because of their caregiving duties (see sidebar).

Other statistics suggest employees don't feel they can carry the load by themselves. A recent survey conducted by Raleigh, N.C.-based work/life services provider Workplace Options found 60 percent of the 542 working Americans polled reporting they are a caregiver for an elderly loved one or knows someone with caregiving responsibilities. Among them, just 11 percent said they feel capable of providing all the necessary care on their own; 61 percent indicated they would need to combine their efforts with outside assistance.

These figures should be "sobering" for employers and HR, says Kathleen Lingle, leader of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based WorldatWork's Alliance for Work-Life Progress. "Depending on the age and gender configuration of an employer's workforce, this means that elder-care responsibility could be more common than handling child care [among employees]," she says. "Add to this the fact that some segment of every workforce will be juggling both elder care and child care, and the situation AARP describes [involving] distraction and lost productivity doesn't seem exaggerated."

Lingle has a unique perspective on the challenges elder-care responsibilities present to employees and employers. She has served as a primary caregiver for an elderly loved one with Alzheimer's disease, and understands how such a responsibility affects individuals at work and at home.

"There are legal, financial, psychological and physical strains that all increase as an elderly family member declines," she says, "and the outcome is inevitable and not pleasant."

Before joining WorldatWork, Lingle was national work/life director at professional-services firm KPMG, where she managed the organization's back-up elder-care and child-care services. To accommodate a large company such as KPMG, a back-up elder-care provider must have the resources to serve large numbers of employees in disparate locations, she says.

While this most likely means choosing a provider with a national network of caregivers, HR and benefits professionals must look closely at the qualifications and credentials of the provider and its caregivers on a local level, says Lingle, noting that a uniform elder-care experience can't be guaranteed in every geographic area.

"McDonald's french fries, for example, will taste the same no matter where you go," she says. "Elder care isn't like that. No matter the company's national scope, you're still dealing with [caregivers] on a local level."

Ensuring Access

Atlanta-based The Home Depot > saw a competitive advantage in providing back-up elder-care services to its associates, thereby keeping them on the retail floor instead of at home. But that wasn't the primary reason the home-improvement and construction retailer began offering such services to employees in February 2011, says Brant Suddath, director of benefits.

"We spent a lot of time on the front end, thinking about the business case for implementing back-up elder-care services, and we thought it would have an impact on absenteeism and productivity over time," says Suddath. "But we quickly convinced ourselves that wasn't the only reason to offer this. We felt it offered a competitive advantage, but it was also the right thing to do for our employees."

The < Home Depot > currently offers discounted back-up elder-care services -- also provided by Bright Horizons -- to all part-time and full-time associates who have been with the company for at least one year, says Suddath. Associates may use up to 10 visits per year at a discounted rate, paying $6 per hour (with a four-hour minimum), or approximately $48 a day for in-home elder care.

When the need to arrange back-up elder care arises, an employee contacts Bright Horizons -- either online or through a toll-free phone number -- and is matched up with an appropriate local caregiver, based on the employee's responses to a series of questions aimed at establishing his or her loved one's specific needs.

With more than 300,000 associates and 2,258 retail stores across the United States, finding caregivers with the specific skills necessary can be a challenge in certain geographic areas, says Suddath.

"We need a service that accommodates employees in all 50 states," he says, "and we need it to be robust."

He urges HR professionals to ensure a back-up-care provider can serve employees in remote locations, or at least help find an alternative in these areas, such as recommending a smaller, local provider. The < Home Depot >'s HR team routinely communicates with employees in more remote areas to determine their needs, and acts as the conduit between their associates and Bright Horizons. 

For example, "we were hearing from a lot of our employees in the Anchorage, Alaska, area that the Bright Horizons network wasn't as robust there as it was in, say, Atlanta or Houston," says Suddath.

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In response, HR targeted communication to Alaskan associates -- seeking nominations for local providers to add to the Bright Horizons network -- in an effort to better serve them in their area. HR also initiated the "MyCare Assist" email campaign, notifying employees in the Anchorage area of alternatives when back-up services are unavailable due to gaps in network coverage, says Suddath, adding that the company provides reimbursement for center-based or in-home care outside of the Bright Horizons network.

In selecting a provider, adequate access to quality care in disparate locations should trump cost in the long run, adds Walter Pasciullo, global benefits operations manager with Latham & Watkins, which employs more than 4,200 attorneys, partners, paralegal and staff globally.

"If we're looking at two vendors, and one's more expensive but the availability of care is 10 times better, then that's the way we're going to go," Pasciullo says. "For a program like this, [using] a provider of poor quality would defeat the purpose, which is to relieve stress from employees. We wouldn't do it just to save money and add more stress to employees' lives."

Continual Communication

Ensuring employees are aware of the availability of elder-care services requires an ongoing effort at Latham & Watkins as well, says Pasciullo.

"When a new hire comes in, for example, elder-care services may not be one of the things they're really focusing on," he says. "So we try to remarket the service each year."

In doing so, the global-benefits department relies on multiple communication channels, says Pasciullo. "It's tough in a law firm. Our people receive so many emails, and we have to be careful about delivering too much communication electronically."

The global-benefits team uses other methods -- video messages accessible through the company intranet, live presentations highlighting voluntary benefits, periodic "desk drops" with information on voluntary plans, for instance -- and Pasciullo frequently attends open enrollment meetings to provide employees with an overview of the service and how it works.

In addition, "our global benefits staff is trained to inform employees going on leave -- some of whom may be leaving to take care of a family member -- that back-up elder-care services are available to them. I think this combination of steps has increased utilization," he says, estimating that approximately 70 Latham & Watkins employees have used the service in the past year.

Chevron Corp. first piloted Ceridian LifeWorks' back-up elder care services to employees in the company's San Ramon, Calif. headquarters in 2006. Chevron has since expanded the services to its employees throughout the United States, and plans to eventually offer back-up care services to workers on a global basis, says Sara Kashima, work/life services and health-information coordinator at the multinational energy company.

Much like The < Home Depot, Chevron has gradually expanded the offering based on feedback Kashima and the HR team have solicited from employees, she says.

"People are with us for a long time," says Kashima, who has been with Chevron for 18 years. "So, employees generally go through different life cycles with us, and a lot of issues were being raised, through our employee-assistance provider, around the need for elder care for our employees and their families."

In the process of gathering such feedback, Kashima and the HR team found some employees weren't aware of the service offering, or hadn't become aware of the service until an immediate need arose -- or until after they had used paid or unpaid time off to tend to an elderly loved one.

For Chevron, expanding communication around the service was key to ensuring utilization, says Kashima. In addition to the standard delivery methods -- company intranets, employee newsletters, etc. -- Kashima and her team tried new approaches.

"In our Houston offices, for example, we recently had LCD screens put in our elevator banks," she says. "So one of the things we decided to use them for was to display messages related to wellness offerings -- EAP services, elder care, etc.

"We also have elder-care specialists deliver on-site talks twice a year," adds Kashima, "and elder care is a topic at least once a year at our quarterly events in San Ramon. One of the reasons we have these ongoing communications," she adds, "is because [some] employees may not have a need for elder care right now, but we want to make sure that, if they need it five years from now, they know the service is available to them."

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