Eldercare, Employee Performance
- a Delicate Balance for Corporation
How much time do employees devote to taking care of their elderly
relatives? What is the toll on their employers?
A recent survey by Fortune Magazine and John Hancock
Financial Services found that 60 percent of employers are aware
of work-related problems stemming from eldercare.
Simple employee absenteeism is not simple anymore.
Caring for a family member encompasses both physical and psychological
With Americans living longer and requiring more
care and supervision, family members and their employers must
realize the resulting effect on corporate morale and productivity.
To a large degree, it would behoove employers
to provide a work environment that recognizes the demands of eldercare
and provides flexible programs to assist employees in balancing
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires
employers with 50 or more employees to grant eligible employees
up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave for childbirth, adoption,
or serious illness of the employee or a close family member, including
spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition.
While most states, including New York, follow
federal law, Connecticut currently specifies that employers with
75 or more employees allow eligible workers 16 weeks of unpaid
leave with a two-year period.
The effect is to allow eligible employees to take
16 weeks of leave in the first year under Connecticut law and
an additional 12 weeks of leave in the second year under federal
A recent signing by Gov. John Rowland, however,
attempts to coordinate Connecticut's Family and Medical Leave
law with the federal law, effective in January 1997.
Regardless of the law, it appears that many employees
do not take advantage of this benefit, while many employers do
not outwardly support it.
With continuing downsizing and layoffs, employees
may be reluctant to let their employers know that a family problem
exists for fear of losing their jobs.
At the same time, employers often make it known
that their people should be grateful for their jobs - and not
necessarily expect a supportive environment or additional benefits
Obviously, a problem exists. Human resources managers
should re-examine their corporate policies, assume a leadership
role and provide the resources necessary to assist employees with
their often time-consuming and difficult caregiving responsibilities.
As the population ages, a larger number of employees
will become caregivers to the elderly. This is not only time-consuming,
but expensive as well.
Most caregivers today are women, age 40 and older,
who provide a wide variety of assistance to elderly relatives.
The majority of employed caregivers devote about
10 hours a week to caregiving, and 80 percent of all caregivers
provide assistance seven days a week.
Sixty percent of respondents to a recent American
Association of Retired Persons National Survey of Caregivers report
additional expenses incurred as a result of caregiving responsibilities,
including travel, telephone, special diets and medications.
What does all of this add up to for corporate
employers? Employed caregivers have serious problems balancing
their work and outside responsibilities.
Unscheduled absences, tardiness, leaving early,
emergency phone calls, stress-related health problems, anxiety,
depression, poor morale and, in some cases, early retirement rnean
a decrease in productivity.
Employers need to realize the increasing effect
that personal problems have on productivity and morale in the
Some of the more enlightened corporations supply
counseling services for their employees who are eldercare givers,
while others contract with outside services to provide various
levels of assistance.
Area corporations that have programs in place
include The Travelers, Southern New England Telephone Co., General
Reinsurance, Champion International, Aetna, IBM and others.
Corporations that offer eldercare assistance programs
know that they are providing a valuable service to their employees
and their shareholders.
These services translate into an important tool
to recruit and retain valued employees.
Corporate structure, corporate culture, work schedules,
size, resources and economic environment all play apart in the
design of eldercare assistance programs.
At the same time, there must be flexibility and
a recognition that every situation is different. Caregiving responsibilities
change as the health and abilities of the older person deteriorates.
Because of their close contact with employees,
supervisors and managers play an important role in communicating
an employer's philosophy about work and family issues.
Managers need to be knowledgeable about the demands
and tune constraints on their employees who care for the elderly.
Human resource managers should review their policies
and institute eldercare assistance programs to accommodate the
needs of their employees.
They should find out what competitors and other
employers in the area are doing. Some firms, for example, have
developed support groups for the working children of Alzheimer's
Can the employer work with local community groups
or private organizations to meet eldercare needs?
Family leave laws are in place, but it is up to
individual employers to set programs and policies that will support
employees and benefit the corporation at the same time.