Here's the thing about diapers: It's okay to talk about your daughters - but not your dad's.
It's a stigma. It's not fair. But it's a part of life. And it's a big part of the reason that companies understand child care concerns, while senior care is sneaking up on us as a potential corporate crisis.
Diapers don't have you convinced? You can apply the same standard to sick days, doctor's appointments, emergency falls and other reasons employees would have to leave or miss work due to elder care duties. While parents sometimes joke about the trials and tribulations of caring for their children, senior care responsibilities are more often suffered silently.
And so, looking back on October and National Work and Family Month, let's not forget the work-family issue facing our nation's 65.7 million adults providing care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged: Senior Care.
The Sandwich Generation is a growing population of men and women, generally in their 40s and 50s, who are "sandwiched" between their children and their aging parents, providing some level of care for both. Many of them are also working.
According to PewResearch, nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s are part of the Sandwich Generation. And a MetLife study found nearly 60 percent of those caring for adults are doing so while working full-time. These caregiving responsibilities don't just fall to women, either - research has found that 45 percent of Americans caring for aging relatives are men.
So what do senior care and the Sandwich Generation mean for employers?
My colleague, Jody Gastfriend, the VP of Senior Care for Care.com, has written extensively about her caregiving journey providing care for her aging parents. Consider this excerpt, from her post, "7 Lessons Learned After Mom Fell."
Still, when it happened to my own mother, I'll admit that I wasn't completely prepared. And while I try not to be superstitious, I remembered that bad things sometimes happen in threes. The day after my mother's accident, my 20-year-old daughter took a tumble while jogging and fractured her knee.
Talk about being sandwiched. How can she be expected to be present and productive at work when her mind is at home?
As caregivers struggle to meet their personal and professional responsibilities, almost 70 percent of caregivers are forced to make workplace adjustments, such as turning down promotions, scaling back hours or even leaving their jobs. At the same time, businesses are losing tens of billions in annual productivity costs due to care-related issues like reduced hours, absenteeism and presenteeism (i.e. being present at work, but not actually working).
For the U.S. to remain competitive as a global economic leader, American business leaders need to recognize and respond to the caregiving needs of all our working families - not just the ones with young children.
Our senior care and Sandwich Generation needs aren't going to resolve themselves. In fact, they could balloon into an even bigger issue as Baby Boomers age into retirement and young adults boomerang back home to receive emotional and financial support from their parents.
So what can employers do to alleviate some of stress and meet the needs of employees with senior care responsibilities?
1. Start the Conversation
It's true that starting workplace conversations about senior care won't be easy, but it's important to create a company culture in which employees are comfortable talking about what's happening in their lives and how it affects their job performance and stress levels.
2. Embrace Flexwork
Flexibility is a priority for all working families, and especially so for those in the Sandwich Generation or with senior care responsibilities, which tend to be more situational than child care.
3. Provide Care-Assistance Benefits
As awareness around the importance of supporting working families spreads, providing elder care assistance benefits is becoming increasingly common. According to the Family and Work Institute's 2014 National Study of Employers, nearly half of employers provide elder care resources and referral benefits. Business clients of my company, Care.com, provide our Workplace Solutions offerings, which can include senior care planning assistance from Master's level social workers, as benefits to their employees.
4. Be Informed, and Act as a Resource for Your Employees
Employees with senior care responsibilities often don't think about senior care until the situation "hits home" for them, which means many are learning as they go. By understanding their needs and arming your employees with information, you can take away a layer of stress. And the more low-emotion responsibilities you can take off of the plate through senior care toolkits or resource and referral benefits, the more you help employees focus on work when they're at work instead of engaging in productivity-killing multi-tasking.
Remember, when you're there for your employees in times of need, you'll see absenteeism and stress levels drop, while engagement, productivity and retention rates improve. Yes, it may take some investment up front, but supporting employees with senior care needs is good business in the long run.