Elder care – an HR crisis in the wings

With aging populations in many developed economies, elder care looms on the horizon for a high number, making it an HR crisis waiting in the wings. An increasing number of employees will have to balance caring responsibilities with paid work in the not to distant future. Many are already experiencing the challenge.

I recently had an elder care crisis myself. My active and independent, 90 year old mum had a very negative experience, to what should have been a routine surgery. I am self employed so could eventually re-work my schedule, but I live in another country. It was my sister who shouldered the brunt of the immediate responsibility, reliant on the goodwill of her line manager.

While most  organisations now offer support for working parents and new mothers, carers frequently get overlooked.

Sandwich generation

In some cases many individuals, known as the “Sandwich Generation” fulfil both roles.  These people balance their own lives and work, parent their own children and reverse parent at the same time. That is, they parent their own parents. We are already seeing inadequate retirement provision made by many Boomers, and pension poverty forecast for many women, who live longer. This is set against a reduction in state funded care services in some geographies, or none at all in others, so the full extent of the problem can only be estimated.

But there is no doubt it is significant.

Unofficial support

The question is does the workplace need to play a stronger role in building carer-friendly communities?  The answer is yes, or face skill set shortages. UK businesses are already suggesting that the risk of losing key talent from the workplace is increasing, because of a lack of support for those employees with caring responsibilities. In joint research from the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion (enei) and My Family Care it was revealed that only 38% of employers monitor the caring responsibilities of their workforce, despite the fact that 10% of UK workers now combine paid work with caring for family members.

In a survey of 1,000 consumers and 100 employers, although 33% of HR managers said they had introduced specific policies or communications for carers at work 35% of the respondents surveyed indicated  that they have minimal support  available to them. This is in contrast to new parents who have direct support and tend to build a network of people experiencing the same life and professional challenges. Although there is now a growing plethora of commercial organisations filling the service gap,  in what is going to be a big growth business in the future.

In a separate survey of more than 4,500 carers by Carers UK, more than 50% of those surveyed said workplace issues made looking after the person they cared for more difficult, with 75% reporting a negative impact on their productivity, physical or mental health.

Line Managers

Employees said their line managers were key to helping them balance work and family, and many called for greater flexibility at work although concerns were expressed about the impact this would have on career progression. 75% of employees said a lack of support from their employer made it more difficult to work full time and fulfil their caring responsibilities, with many not even informing their employers of their private obligations.  Further studies have shown that this is more likely to be an issue in a larger organisation where lost  time and interruptions are more frequently recorded than in an SME.

The biggest challenge, however, is cost. Elder care benefits are claimed to be too expensive for many organisations.

Employee benefit

Introducing elder care as an employee benefit need not necessarily be costly.  Even the provision of access to helplines and specialists who can advise on and manage needs generated by caring for elderly relatives. The time spent liaising with different bodies involved in any care process is high, as I found out personally. This can include: hospitals, dieticians, physiotherapists, pharmacists, doctors  and other stakeholders that are needed before residential elder care is considered. These schemes are comprehensive and look after major issues from support in the home, to advice on residential care.

Elder care services can also provide access to qualified financial and legal advisors, specialising in care fees planning and the financial affairs of older people, as well as hands-on support when dealing with property and personal possessions. Having these resources available will minimise the time needed to independently seek professional advice from very often unreliable sources.

With a record number of people in the 60+ demographic (this is why they are called Boomers, because there was a baby boom) as with any other wider cultural change, the work place will be impacted. It will then become an HR issue.

What is your experience of elder care?

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