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Article No.: 10-6

Article Title: The Impact of the Emerging Eldercare Challenge on the Mature Workforce

Author: Patricia Faust, Guest Columnist

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America’s workforce has seen significant turmoil over recent years.  The mature workforce left standing is experiencing stress effects from this turmoil.  This has and continues to have an impact on productivity levels within industries and organizations.  Senior management has begun to recognize the problem.  Chronic stress can lead to chronic health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and a lowered immune system.  All of these chronic conditions are prime sources for increases in health care costs for employers.
There is a significant source of stress for mature workers that still falls under the radar.  60% of the 50 million Americans providing care for loved ones are employed outside the home.  Most of these caregivers have a full-time job.  Diane Piktialis, Vice President at Boston-based Ceridian Performance Partners, a leading employee-benefits firm, states that “Eldercare is already a big issue and a problem that will grow dramatically in the coming decades.  One of the problems is that it isn’t the kind of issue employees talk about much in the workplace.”  That silence is costing companies.  The University of Pennsylvania calculated the loss to business at a whopping $33 billion for Alzheimer’s disease alone (,2010).
It is not only the lost productivity costs that businesses are absorbing.  The chronic stress of caregiving is taking an immense health toll on these employee caregivers.  The health effects to caregivers cost US employers an additional 8% in health care a year, or $13.4 billion annually according to the MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employers Health Care Costs.  Working caregivers result in double jeopardy to employers – they cost over $34 billion in lost productivity and $13.4 billion in health care costs.
Large corporations such as IBM and AT&T have understood the impact of eldercare on their employees and their bottom line.  They were the leaders in the development of eldercare programs in the workplace.  However, even at the highpoint of eldercare programming in 2006, only 26% of corporations had eldercare referral services according to the Society for Human Resource Management.  That percentage dropped to 11% by 2009.  Most employers offer their eldercare programs as part of their Employee Assistance Programs (MetLife Mature Market Institute, 2010).
These national statistics tell a dire story.  What does eldercare look like in a Midwest region in small to medium size companies?  In March 2010, seven small to medium sized companies in S.E. Indiana participated in a survey assessing the impact of eldercare in the workplace.  The results showed that 35% of the respondents self-identified as caregivers.    As the boomer generation gets older their parents are also getting older and entering the age of more intense care – their mid-eighties.  The boomers themselves are beginning to experience chronic health conditions so spousal caregiving is not uncommon.  Of the respondents who did not identify as caregivers, 68.2% believed they would be in a caregiving situation within the next five years.  This response should give all companies notice that the eldercare problem is going to reach crisis proportion unless it is addressed right now.
In this survey the percentage of men self-identifying as caregivers was higher than the percentage of women who self identified as caregivers.  This was an unusual finding although not totally unexpected.   Men have increasingly been more involved in caregiving over the past few years.  Men don’t normally self-identify as caregivers in the workplace for fear of being stigmatized for putting family duties before job duties.  This finding should alert companies that employ larger numbers of male employees that they will not escape this eldercare phenomenon unscathed. 
Lastly and probably one of the more important findings of the survey, caregivers used healthcare benefits at a statistically significant higher rate than non-caregiving employees.  This correlates with national statistics but it is still a connection that employers are missing.  At a time when employers are looking for any way to reduce their health care costs, this piece of information is very critical.  Steps need to be taken to reduce the enormous stress that these working caregivers are under.  Linking wellness programs to corporate eldercare initiatives would conceivably improve employee health and reduce health care costs.
These respondents were asked who the first person they would go to when they felt they needed help.  The top response was their manager/supervisor.  This underscores the fact that management training  in eldercare issues must be implemented to insure that management and frontline supervisors know what to look for and how to direct employees to appropriate sources for help.  Only 6% of the respondents stated that they would see what their Employee Assistance Program had to offer.  As mentioned earlier, EAPs are where most employers embed their eldercare program if they have one.  Currently employers are losing money on underutilized EAP programs, increased health care costs, and lost productivity due to unmanaged eldercare in the workplace.
The Hartford just released results from a survey they conducted on the boomer workforce.  “Our research found a troubling trend of baby boomer caregivers being pushed to their limits.” Said Barbara Campbell, regional vice president of the Group Benefits Division at The Hartford Financial Services Group.  “We hope to raise awareness among employers about this risk to their employees’ health and productivity because they play a key role in bringing workers’ lives back into balance.” Campbell said (The Hartford Courant, April 2010).
Eldercare in the workplace affects small, medium and large companies the same way.  It is the number of caregiving employees that increase with the size of the company and the financial losses that increase as the companies get bigger.  It is a significant problem that will affect health care costs and productivity levels.  Employers can not put an eldercare program in place and expect that everything will be resolved.  This is a complex problem.  Workforce Management reporting on the eldercare challenge referred to experts in the industry saying that “companies that will thrive in the future will adapt to this reality by implementing or strengthening HR policies that improve the bottom line and the lives of employees caregivers.” (, 12/15/09).  It is critical that employers pay attention to this silent productivity killer and implement strategies to address unmanaged caregiving within their companies and organizations.
Patricia Faust, MGS
Corporate Gerontologist
Eldercare Education Consultants, LLC

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