It’s no surprise that many people prefer to age safely at home. But, let’s be frank about what this requires: in most instances, it’s assistance from family members who are already stretched thin on time due to competing responsibilities of parenting, household management, and work.
Sure, hired help is available, but most families find it unaffordable or overwhelming. As an example, the market rate in New York City for geriatric care management—a high-touch care-coordination service for those looking to age in place—is $180 per hour.
There are less costly services and technologies aimed at supporting family caregivers in narrow areas of need (i.e., cooking, transportation, legal, etc.). But that’s part of the problem. The sheer number of options is overwhelming to the point of choice paralysis.
The burden of adult caregivers
Most families attempt to manage the care of their loved ones alone. They find themselves spending hours, often during work, coordinating and delivering the care for their elderly family members.
This was the case for my dad. He became a caregiver for his 90-year-old mother following a hospitalization. Although her mental faculties remained sharp, she needed help around the house. It took my dad weeks of frustrating conversation to convince his mom that she required in-home assistance, which in itself was a stressful conversation. Once he got past that stage, he spent months calling government agencies and medical offices to get Medicaid to cover an aide. Every time, he’d have to state his case from the beginning.
The constant juggle to balance full-time work, the care of my grandmother, and other obligations caused physical and mental exhaustion. My dad ended up in the hospital himself. As his daughter, this was unbearable to watch.
Companies lose out when they don’t support caregivers
My dad isn’t alone in his struggle. One in six employed Americans is currently caring for an aging or ill family member, according to a Gallup poll. Whether or not you agree that employers (versus the government) should fund social services for employees, in the case of employee-caregivers, they have an economic incentive to do so. Many employee-caregivers report having to choose between being a good employee and being a good child. Going with the latter impacts career opportunities. An employee is unlikely to take on a stretch assignment that may lead to a promotion if they need to get home in time to cook Mom dinner. When it all gets too much, they’re likely to leave. And according to a Harvard Business School report, the turnover, loss of institutional knowledge, and temporary hiring can costs companies “millions of dollars.” U.S businesses lose up to $33.6 billion in productivity, according to an AARP report.
The experience of an employee caring for an aging parent parallels that of an employee caring for a child. Over the past two decades, more and more companies are offering childcare assistance benefits and accommodations for parents. Yes, America still has a long way to go on this—but we are seeing progress, and more and more parents are able to balance fruitful careers while raising a family.
Similar to employer-sponsored childcare assistance, eldercare assistance will have the greatest impact on women. Adult daughters are the most likely to shoulder the responsibilities of caring for an aging parent, according to a 2017 American Time Use survey.
What companies can do to help adult caregivers
If you have the power to influence your organization, don’t rush to implement the shiniest new employee benefit claiming to provide the best tech-enabled eldercare support for your employees. It will have low utilization and fail to produce the long-lasting cultural change required.
The goal shouldn’t be just to “check the box” on eldercare support. Instead, examine the cultural awareness of your workforce and managers. Are your employees as comfortable talking about leaving early to drive Mom to the doctor’s as they are about leaving early to go to a parent-teacher meeting at their son’s school?
An educational lunch-and-learn series on eldercare planning is an excellent way to open a conversation in a nonthreatening way. Wrap the discussion in detail about long-term care insurance, and you’ll be surprised how many people start sharing personal caregiving challenges. The first step is to normalize the conversation about the demands of eldercare in the workplace.
The next step is to review your current benefits. Many employers already offer things like legal insurance, financial advisory services, and paid leave. You can package and communicate these benefits as eldercare support with very minimal costs.
Whether you are an advocate of work-life balance or separation of work and life, there is no denying that one affects the other. When the time comes, I will have to care for my aging parents as they did for theirs. I want to make sure that I spent time with them, not on them.
Darya Moldavskaya is the cofounder of ReverCare.