Elder Care in the Workplace


Employers are increasingly likely to find that care of employees’ parents becomes a workplace issue. National studies indicate that about 15% of employees have responsibility for elder care today, and that number is expected to increase to 22% in the next four years.

According to Andrew Scharlach, a UC Berkeley professor specializing on aging issues, 37% of the U.S. work force in 2005 will be aged 40 to 54, the prime years for elder care issues to surface. By 2020, more than a third of the work force will be responsible for elder care.

As baby boomers age, the demographics will become even more compelling. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the number of people over 85 who rely on their children for care will nearly double by 2030 and more than triple by 2050. Families are expected to continue to provide 80% of needed long-term care.

The Current Problem

One large national employer, NationsBank, calculates that it loses about $1 million per year to absences for elder care. Dr. Scharlach estimates that the national bill for productivity lost to elder care is $17 billion.

While elder care problems are often compared to child care difficulties, there is one important difference. Child care usually is an issue for younger, newer employees. Elder care, however, is the province of more experienced and valuable employees.

What Companies are Doing

According to a Wall Street Journal article (February 16, 1994) on the problem, large companies are approaching the problem with a number of alternatives. Some have adopted flexible scheduling arrangements, including permitting employees to bring parents to the workplace for short periods at the beginning or end of the day.

Others promote or fund resource and referral programs, helping provide information to employees about nursing home alternatives, home safety issues, planning for incapacity and dealing with the problems of distant elders. Some provide referrals to Elder Law attorneys or case managers to work with employees.

Still other employers take a more simple approach, providing seminars for employee groups. Work/Family Directions, Inc., a Boston consulting firm, reports that it gave 575 elder-care seminars for employees in 1993, up 27% from the year before, on such topics as choosing a nursing home, paying for care and Elder Law issues.

Elder Issues in Eastern Europe

The former communist countries of Eastern Europe have many of the same demographic concerns. For two reasons, however, their elder care problems may be greater. After years of low fertility rates, Eastern European countries have much larger ratios of older citizens. The high mortality among young men in World War II also means that elderly women (who usually require more medical care) outnumber elderly men by even larger margins than in the rest of the world. The demographic difficulties are compounded by historically liberal pension benefits which will strain already thin budgets.

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