Stand Up & Speak Out for Real Wellness

By Barbara E. Friesner

NABBW’s Elder Care Expert

Many companies these days are focusing the employee benefits on wellness. That makes sense and I applaud them for it.

Unfortunately, when they think of wellness, most companies are thinking exercise programs, healthy eating, smoking cessation, stress reduction, etc.

However, the point that many companies are missing is the root cause for these issues – that many people aren’t exercising or eating healthily, and are smoking, drinking, self-medicating, and totally stressed because they’re struggling with eldercare issues.

Parents are much older, often frailer and often living away from their adult children. As a result, elder caregiving employees miss more days (absenteeism) and have more interruptions at work (presenteeism) because of family responsibilities than other employees – affecting their health, finances, and family and social life.

Eldercare is also a financial burden. According to a 1997 MetLife Institute survey, 49% of Baby Boomer women caregivers (and let’s face it . . . eldercare is primarily a “women’s issue”) suffered “financial hardship” as a result of their caregiving.

In addition:

  • Women caregivers who return to full-time employment after caregiving are more likely to earn lower wages, have a “benefit-poor” job, and receive reduced retirement benefits.
  • In addition to loss of salary, benefits, pension, and social security, most caregivers also help with out-of-pocket expenses such as food, transportation, medication, equipment (such as wheel chairs, safety bars, etc) and consumable supplies.
  • An additional 30% will supplement family care with assistance from paid providers.

And the toll that caregiving takes is not just financial. Consider:

  • Higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges are common among women who care for an older relative or friend.
  • One four-year study found that middle-aged and older women who provided care for an ill or disabled spouse were almost six times as likely to suffer depressive or anxious symptoms as were those who had no caregiving responsibilities.
  • And it’s not just depression. The physical impact of providing care can lead to long-term care needs for the caregiver.

These statistics are important to caregivers but what is the impact on companies (because most companies are not going to incorporate eldercare support into their benefits package unless they see a financial impact)?

Here are just a few stats:

  • U.S. businesses lose $11.4 to $29 billion per year due to caregiving.
  • The cost to businesses to replace women caregivers who quit their jobs because of their caregiving responsibilities has been estimated at $3.3 billion.
  • Absenteeism among women caregivers due to caregiving responsibilities costs businesses almost $270 million.
  • The cost to businesses because of partial absenteeism (eg: longer lunch breaks, arriving late or leaving early) due to women’s caregiving has been estimated at $327 million.
  • Caregiving-related workday interruptions (presenteeism) adds another $3.8 billion.

These stats are also based on a 1997 national MetLife survey. The numbers are much greater now.

So what can companies do to support elder caregivers? Here are a few suggestions:

  • If someone is not dealing with eldercare issues themselves, chances are they don’t understand the impact on their employee. Therefore, businesses can provide training programs for managers on eldercare issues and how to support their caregiving employees.
  • Offer “cafeteria style” employee benefits which allow employees to select supplemental dependent care coverage to reimburse costs for in-home care or adult day care. Benefits also should cover counseling for the employee to help them deal with the stresses of caregiving.
  • Human Resource or employee assistance professionals can provide eldercare information such as internet sites and local resources and services.
  • Companies can organize in-house caregiver support groups or provide information about outside support groups.
  • One of the most important benefit for an employee with caregiving responsibilities is time. Therefore, they can provide such things as flexible work hours and family sick days.
  • Have a company “caregiver fair” and lunch ‘n’ learn programs on issues such as legal and financial services, hiring a home care attendant, and coping skills for caregivers.
  • Offer long-term care insurance coverage for employees, their spouses, and dependents.

What can you do?

Unless there’s a tipping point – a “volume” – companies may not know they have an eldercare issue. Therefore, even if you are not dealing with eldercare issues personally, speak up and support other employees who are. Get friends and co-workers to speak up, too. Stand up and speak out for real wellness.

© Copyright AgeWiseLiving™ 2010 You can find information about how to talk with your aging loved ones in “The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success System by going to www.AgeWiseLiving.com. While there, sign up for Barbara’s free weekly newsletter. You can also contact Barbara by calling toll-free (877) AGE-WISE. Barbara E. Friesner is the country’s leading Generational Coach and expert on issues affecting seniors and their families. She is an adjunct professor at Cornell University.

Barbara Friesner is the country's leading Generational Coach and an expert on issues affecting Seniors and their families. She has been interviewed for Advising Boomers magazine, featured on NY1 TV's Focus on Seniors and Coping with Caregiving on wsRadio. She has also been quoted in newspapers and magazines across the country and her articles have been published in the CAPSule, the Children of Aging Parent's newsletter.