Caregiving Takes Toll on U.S. Workers; Employers Can Help

By Stephen Miller, CEBS Jul 22, 2011

The percentage of U.S. adults providing care to a parent has tripled since 1994, according to The MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers. The June 2011 report, produced by the MetLife Mature Market Institute in conjunction with the National Alliance for Caregiving and the Center for Long Term Care Research and Policy at New York Medical College, found that nearly 10 million Americans over the age of 50 care for their aging parents.

“These family caregivers, the celebrated members of the sandwich generation, are juggling their responsibilities to their own families and to their parents,” said Gail Hunt, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Caregiving. “There is also evidence that caregivers experience considerable health issues as a result of their focus on caring for others. The need for flexibility in the workplace and in policies that would benefit working caregivers is likely to increase in importance as more working caregivers approach their own retirement while still caring for their loved ones.”

The need for flexibility in the workplace and in policies
to benefit working caregivers is likely to increase.

The study found that:

The percentage of adult children providing personal care or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years and currently represents a quarter of adult children, mainly Baby Boomers. Working and nonworking adult children were almost equally likely to provide care to parents in need.

Caregiving sons and daughters provided comparable care in many respects, but daughters were more likely to provide basic care (i.e., help with dressing, feeding and bathing) and sons were more likely to provide financial assistance.

Americans who took time off to care for aging parents suffered losses in wages, pension and Social Security benefits. Individually, average losses equaled $324,044 for women and $283,716 for men.

Adult children age 50-plus who work and provided care to a parent were more likely than those who did not provide care to report that their health was fair or poor.

Employer Steps

The study points out that employers can provide retirement planning and stress management information and can assist employees with workplace accommodations—such as flex time and help with time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—so that caregivers can stay in the workforce while caring for a relative.

“There aresteps people can take to mitigate the hidden costs of caregiving and there are programs employers can put into place to help support their employees,” said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

In addition to resource and referral services, some employers are:

Providing a range of decision-support services, online or by telephone, on issues such as medical care and finding full- or part-time in-home attendants.

Encouraging workers to use free resources, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' online Eldercare Locator, to find services that can help with caregiving.

Contracting with licensed geriatric care managers to provide advice to their workforce.

Working caregivers continue to report strained relations with supervisors regardless of the corporate culture, according to recent studies. That's why training supervisors in ways to help and accommodate caregivers remains critical.

Stephen Miller, CEBS, is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

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