Life Care Consulting by Barbara Hance - Financial and Personal Management Service for the Elderly, Frail and the Busy
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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 care.

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 their responsibilities.

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 law.

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 for caregiving.

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 workplace.

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 victims.

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.

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