Employer's Costs of Working Family Caregivers

The U.S. Department of Labor published an amazing study - 30% of employees are family caregivers to elder loved ones or aging parents. The study goes on to report that by 2010 that number will rise to 54%.

The U.S. Department of Labor published an amazing study - 30% of employees are family caregivers to elder loved ones or aging parents. The study goes on to report that by 2010 that number will rise to 54%! Why? Because 5 million boomers will be 65 and that's when most of us will fall prey to caring for our elder loved ones. Let's not forget the employees age 45 to 55 who are now working family caregivers. How do I know this? My caregiving days for my aging parents began at age 50 and many colleagues I work with today are in the mid 40's.

These colleagues fall in the sandwich generation meaning they care for their own children in addition to family elders. This group is in a hard place and they leave a visible mark by arriving late, taking a long lunch hour, and/or leaving work early. They carry responsibilities of managing their children's social life and sport events, the dentist and doctor's appointments, shopping for the family's needs, meeting with teachers, and simply caring for children. There's nothing simple about that; right mom and dad?

You're exhausted! But you better not be if you have an aging parent in your family! They have demands too. Their demands are close to those of your child's but from my experience as a family caregiver, they are much bigger, harder and more stressful. One big difference that screams out is caring for a child can be very rewarding watching them grow into young adults and developing skills as they move forward. Watching elders grow old is not so rewarding. It can be painful observing those who once guided us become totally dependent for their care. Children develop and elders become feeble and needy.

When my mom was diagnosed with CHF years ago, I researched the Internet on heart related issues, topics, and cures. I'd call her doctor to discuss treatments, prescriptions, and her diet. My research continued to healthy recipes, social services available to us from the U.S. and state agencies, and looked into moving her closer to where I lived since hundreds of miles lay between us. Now remember I'm a full time employee. When do you suppose I completed these tasks? Typically, a lot of employees have desktops sitting in their work area or at least have access to one. Do you think I researched these heated topics when I got home from work? After all, I have my children to escort, dinner to prepare, dishes to clean, homework to help with, and well, a girl's got to relax a bit, right? Oh, did someone say spend quality time with the kids?

You got the picture. I hope my employer isn't reading this. If she is, shouldn't I worry about keeping my job? But if she happens to read this, the first thought popping in her mind is "the costs of replacing me." In a published study by Met Life titled Productivity Losses to Employers, July 2006, suggests the estimated cost of losing an employee is half their salary. That may not be a lot to some but to an employer in today's market, that is substantial. And I'm not the employer's only worker at risk. Multiply that by 2 and cost figures sky rocket.

Let's say the employee keeps the job but continues with the caregiving duties. The Met Life study goes on to report that 10% of the men missed on average 12 days a year due to absenteeism dealing with children and elder care issues. And 18% of the women missed on average 33 days. Wages were based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics median weekly wage for men and women: $731 for men; $588 for women. The cost totals are close to $3.5 billion.

Other disturbing yet common factors that affect employer's loss are partial absenteeism, leaving work early, a crisis in care, workday interruptions, supervisor costs (assuming a supervisor spent an average of one hour per month supervising an employee on caregiving topics). The total cost to employers including unpaid leave and cost of reduction of work hours from full time to part time work - total; anyone care to take a guess? The staggering amount is over $17 billion a year!! If you include productivity costs, that total changes. Are you sitting down? Over a $34 billion loss a year!

The study goes on to measure the number of men and women working full-time with full-time caregiving responsibilities for a family member over age 18 totals - 15 billion employees; all affecting the bottom line. In the study, Met Life provides a cool calculator that helps employers to do their own elder care costs. Visit Elder Care Calculator to access.

Caregiver Resources for Employers

As an employer you may be asking what can we do about this? You'll be happy to hear, there's available resources and help. Just by acknowledging that it's a problem is half the solution. When I met with my benefits manager asking permission to start a caregiving support group and inviting employees with care issues to meet up once a month at a brown bag lunch, I was told "no". I was not allowed to use the company emails as a mechanism to communicate with other caregivers/my colleagues to discuss support, topics of interest or quality research that we discovered. It would've saved our employer a lot in lost production. Because if one employee found an answer on a hot question, don't you suppose there are others on the Internet seeking same answers? Yep, we are! Instead of honing it down to one employee on the Internet for that solution - now you have several. By saying "no", your ripping away form your bottom line.

I'm not promoting work interruptions to do elder care research, but it's realty. What are the chances of employees doing it differently? Not when there's a computer in front of us! It's like tempting a person on a diet with cake and ice cream. I know it's no excuse. But it happens.

Carol Marak, Founder, www.WorkingCaregiver.com.

Copyright © 2007 Carol Marak