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Employers are slow to respond

About one in six workers has elder care responsibilities of some kind, and given longer life expectancies, that share is likely to grow.

Workplaces have spent a lot more effort responding to employees' child care rather than elder care needs, but demographics are pushing the attention meter toward the other end of the age spectrum.

Experts in the elder care field are finding that many workers are quietly stressed by juggling attention to their aging relatives with devotion to their jobs.

"The average length of caregiving for an older person is a little over five years now, though in some cases it's more than 10," said Donna Wagner, a board member of the National Alliance for Caregiving and an associate dean at New Mexico State University.

That's a long time in a career for someone who's worried about job retention, advancement or good performance appraisals. Elder care, like child care, often requires time away from work at inconvenient times.

Wagner champions employers that provide workplace programs to educate employees about elder care resources in their communities.

A study released by the alliance looked at 18 large employers to find "best practice" ideas to "help organizations understand the business case for elder care support," Wagner said.

Sadly, a Society for Human Resource Management survey found that the Great Recession apparently caused employers to drop their elder care referral and education programs. The percentage offering them dropped to 9 percent in 2011 from 22 percent in 2007.

Why is this in a career advice column? Because it's no secret that workers who are pulled to deal with family and personal concerns can't do their best work on the job.

Workers might look for employers that seem sensitive to and helpful about elder caregiving needs. Organizations seeking to be employers of choice should know that a sizable share of workers have these dual responsibilities.