When Caregivers Have Full-Time Jobs: A Call for Eldercare Programs

As many of you already know, caregiving is a full-time job. The combination of planning for care (including financial and legal planning), providing hands-on care, and coordinating health care providers can easily fill a caregiver’s day.

But how in the world does this happen when the caregiver has a full-time job? We could surmise that this silent hero just drinks more coffee or is über-organized, but the reality is that approximately 15% of the workforce has caregiving responsibilities that require at least as much time as a full-time paid position.

The disturbing part of this story is that very few companies offer eldercare programs to help their employees manage caregiving responsibilities.

What? You’ve never heard of a workplace eldercare program? Gee, I wonder why? Maybe it’s because they’re like jewels in the desert. And even when they exist, they often do not fit most working caregivers’ needs.

Courtesy of Manatee County Government
Courtesy of Manatee County Government

I was lucky when I worked for the Alzheimer’s Association – the organization offers “caregiver leave” which is akin to “family medical leave” but is separate and additional. The Association also allows caregivers paid time off to visit long-term care facilities when an aging relative can no longer live at home. To address the emotional needs of its employees, a caregiver support group meets once a month.

Other corporate eldercare programs include components such as assistance with legal and financial paperwork, flex-time, educational seminars, and access to a geriatric care manager. Workplaces that offer these things tend to see reduced absenteeism, a boost in morale, decreased stress, and better retention of their employees who are also caregivers.

Seems like a no-brainer, right? Yet here’s an interesting twist: a study conducted by New Mexico State University and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that only 1 – 4 % of caregiver employees actually use eldercare programs when their employers offer them. The researchers proposed a couple of reasons for the low utilization:

• Caregivers don’t know their employers offer an eldercare program.
• There’s a lack of fit between what caregivers need and what the program offers.
• Depending on age, gender, and other demographic factors, caregivers may be reluctant to ask for help or may feel that caregiving is a private issue that should be kept separate from work.

Granted, caregivers must take action and ask for help in order to receive it. But in this situation, I place the onus on employers.

Employers need to take a serious look at their employees and evaluate whether an eldercare program is needed if they don’t already have one. If they do have one, they need to do a much better job of reaching out and making employees aware of these valuable services. The benefits of implementing an eldercare program seem to mightily outweigh the costs.

So tell me, if you are a caregiver who also works, does this resonate with you? If your workplace has an eldercare program, have you used it? What would you like to see offered that isn’t currently available?

On a personal level, I encourage you to approach your employer about this vital issue. If you have an eldercare program, thank your employer and ask how you can help spread the word to your co-workers.

And if you don’t have one, start raising your voice.

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