Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate

Everyone knows the job market is tough these days. But even when there seems to be a lot of good people looking for work, employers know retaining the best employees is a constant challenge. It’s doubly difficult when employees face challenges in their lives that affect their job performance.

Providing care for older family members is a fact of life for millions of Americans. According to a study by the University of Florida, one in ten American workers is a caregiver. Nearly 16 million Americans are trying to balance working and caregiving responsibilities.

By next year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the number of workers ages 45-64 will make up 34% of the workforce. This is the group juggling job responsibilities with caregiving responsibilities. Complex issues associated with long term care, eldercare and disability care are affecting worker productivity. With the number of older Americans starting to skyrocket, things will only get worse for workers worrying about holding onto their jobs and holding their families together.

A National Alliance of Caregiving/AARP study funded by MetLife estimated that each year, businesses suffer a $29 billion loss in productivity due to absenteeism, workplace interruptions, care crises, and diverted supervisor time due to caregiving demands on employees.

Caregiving employees suffer more stress-related illnesses, which creates higher use of a company’s health care plan and adds additional cost for the employer.

In a way, it’s the flip side of child care demands. Child care arrangements fall through. Unexpected illnesses and doctor visits won’t wait. Transportation issues pop up. School demands and social events compete for time and attention. Many of the same issues face the caregiver of an older adult: caregiving coverage, transportation, health matters.

Some workers find the competing demands of work and caregiving to be too much for them to handle anymore. They end up being forced to choose family over their jobs. AARP found that 11% of employees who are caregivers took a leave of absence. Seven percent worked fewer hours. Three percent turned down promotions. Ten percent quit altogether. This creates a serious financial and emotional toll. When the caregiver has his or her own family, it puts a strain on the entire household. Caregivers who enjoy their jobs and who are friends with their co-workers may become depressed and lonely after quitting.

These circumstances don’t serve anyone well: not the workplace who loses a dedicated, experienced employee; not the caregiver, who is frustrated and headed for a meltdown; not the caregiver’s family who often ends up feeling neglected and shortchanged on time and attention; and not the older adult, who in extreme cases may become the victim of elder abuse by a frustrated, stressed, and even angry caregiver.

There are ways to help the caregiver manage this load. It is critically important for employers to recognize this problem and begin to address it.

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!

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