I recently participated in a Q & A with SeniorCare.com's Carol Marak where we discussed the issue of caregiving in the workplace, an issue I consult with regularly in organizations. Here is how our conversation went.
Carol: I read just recently that Family Leave in the workplace has decreased 8% from the years '07 to 2011. I'm curious to know why companies are cutting back in offering elder care referral services and paid family leave.
Anthony: Yes they are. And they are also cutting voluntary benefits, like offering long-term care insurance, that impact caregiving issues as well. Part of it is pure finances. Let's face it, companies are trying to get out of the healthcare business because the current model, started after the Second World War, was used to attract people to the workplace. Now employers are grappling with increasing healthcare costs and trying to see if they can give employees a stipend and then send them to the healthcare exchanges for insurance, if they continue to exist.
If you are a self-insured company the exposure is huge. They have a lots of upfront costs. I think while part of it is finances, part of it is culture. I don't think employers realize the bigger picture. When you retain a caregiver who is productive, even though they may have a crazy schedule or not be at work all the time, the cost of replacing a good employee is high. We still have that stigma in the workforce around caregivers. Yet, Millennials make up 25% of those caregivers who are in the workforce.
I would point to a group called REACT. It stands for "respect a caregivers' time". There are companies like the Cleveland Clinic, Pfizer and others who are members and basically said, "We're going to recognize the caregiver in the workforce." It's not going to be something where if you come forth, come out of the closet so-to-speak, you're going to be stigmatized. We're going to work with you.
We're seeing some companies get a lot more generous in family leave. But we're also seeing a culture shift. Family leave has been talked about more in the context of somebody having a baby and going on leave. It's less about elder issues. But we find with companies in REACT that they're starting to support family caregivers in the workforce - even if it's small things like offering space for employees to meet or giving them access to copiers to print materials. They're starting to recognize that this is one of the biggest societal issues we face and will be facing for a long time to come.
Carol: That's very true. I was a family caregiver and working full time. So, I know some of the issues that unfortunately family members face. It's very difficult, I know, to focus at work when you know that your parent is at home needing care. With that in mind, what do you recommend to the caregivers who do work full time and also have the responsibility of caring or overseeing the care of aging relative? What can they do to remain productive at work and also support an aging parent?
Anthony: Obviously, to be productive at work and stay at work longer, they need to get help. Some of that help comes in pre-planning. How do you prepare for your aging sooner? For example, consider buying long term care insurance when you're younger, when the premiums are cheaper so that when the time comes and maybe you need a home health aide, you can afford it. It's still fairly affordable to do that versus paying for assisted living or going to a nursing home. But if you pre-plan some of these things and have conversations around them, I think it makes it a lot easier.
I do believe that caregivers really need to find the other family caregivers in the workplace and form an informal support group, which can call more attention to this issue with the employer, showing how pervasive it is in the workplace than they realized.
You need to have family conversations sooner. My kids spent the longest time trying to get in-home health care for their grandmother. She was not interested. It was more of a mindset. She didn't want somebody coming into her house, invading her space. I think the more you have these 'what if' conversations the better. It is not just about help for the loved one. It's help for the caregiver.
I always encourage people to reach out to their own communities and use tools like Lotsa Helping Hands, where you form a care community around a loved one. I did this with my mother when she was in Florida after my sister became ill. We basically put a call out. "Here's mom's schedule. We can't be here all the time because we live far away." Within half a day, her whole schedule was filled with people who would reach out and take her to the appointments she needed.
There are tools that can automate. There are conversations that can happen earlier. Obviously, there are things we need to do in the workplace to make this more acceptable. Bottom line, we need to do more and de-stigmatize caregivers.