The Case for Better Elder Care

The Case for Better Elder Care

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Why you should care

Because caring for Mom and Dad as an adult worker is about to become a reality, and most companies aren’t ready for it.

The availability — and affordability — of child care is a common concern among U.S. parents. Companies that provide child-care perks like on-site centers (Google) and subsidized Montessori child care (SAS) and benefits for emergency backup services (Bright Horizons and more) help employees deal with the stresses associated with caring for our kids. 

But what about caring for our moms and dads? With our elderly population beginning to crest — just think about all those boomers on the horizon — elder care is fast becoming the workplace topic du jour. As Americans continue to live longer and diseases like dementia continue to rise, caregiving needs are going to skyrocket. In the workplace, everyone understands – even if we sometimes grumble – when someone has to race home to care for a sick child. But when it comes to aging parents, is this the duty that dare not speak its name?

By 2050, as many as one in five Americans could be elderly. 

Here are some facts to put things into perspective. The AARP reports that an astounding 50 million Americans — about one in four families — face the very real challenge of caring for an elder while holding down a job. One in seven workers in the country is providing care for or has been the caregiver for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia. And it’s only going to get more challenging. With the nation’s nonagenarian population almost tripling over the past 30 years and the U.S. Census Bureau predicting that the highest growth of older adults will happen between 2010 and 2030, we’re looking at an all-out gray-haired explosion. By 2050, as many as one in five Americans could be elderly. 

Forbes reports that unscheduled employee absenteeism costs on average $2,650 to $3,600 annually per worker — or about $3 billion nationally. These costs can be the result of direct expenses such as administration, wages paid to absent workers and hiring higher-cost replacements, or indirect expenses such as reduced productivity of a stressed worker, increased management time, safety issues and reduced morale of the affected employee’s co-workers who have to pick up the slack.

African American woman holding another woman in a wheelchair

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Stepping away from the data, it’s important to take a look at the impact on working adults. The emotional toll can be extraordinary, with caregivers experiencing higher levels of stress and symptoms of depression, often because it’s not a topic that people tend to talk about. Unlike child care, which can head into humble brag territory — ”Ugh, we had three birthday parties and two soccers games on Saturday” – there’s nothing cute about taking care of older people. Having access to support resources is key.

”Very often these workers are in a crisis,” says Sandy Egan, director of service promotion at Workplace Options, a global work-life services provider. “Parents are much more likely to talk about the care of their children than caregivers are to speak about their struggles.”

Parents are much more likely to talk about the care of their children than caregivers are to speak about their struggles.

Beyond emergency absences — plus arriving late or leaving early — some caregivers are forced to make drastic changes to their work life, including changing jobs, finding less demanding roles or even quitting. Those who remain in their jobs sometimes experience performance issues, which may ultimately lead to dismissal. This is a lose-lose situation: A valued employee with challenging circumstances loses a job, and an employer looking to retain a quality workforce loses a trained worker. As the workforce ages, and fewer qualified workers are available — boomers had fewer children than their parents, so the workforce is also getting grayer — businesses will especially want to retain skilled talent. 

“Many employers are simply not aware how cost effective these benefits are,” says Egan. ”They pay for themselves when you consider the time and productivity that is saved by helping just one or two employees with their elder care concerns.”  

Percentage of U.S. employers that provide elder care benefits



subsidize the cost of elder care.


offer elder care leave above federal FMLA leave.


offer elder care leave above any state FMLA leave. 

Source: 2013 Society for Human Resource Management Employee Benefits Survey

If anything, this should serve as a great big wake-up call to the 97 percent of employers that do not subsidize the costs of elder care and the 86 percent of employers that do not offer elder care leave above the federal or state Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave. Workers are getting older and their parents are living longer.

So what can businesses do now to retain a quality workforce and ensure the health and well-being of their employees? Two things, as this report produced by MIT’s AgeLab recommends: Be life-stage friendly and provide access to elder care solutions. This means offering a flexible work environment and varied compensation packages and offering real options to employees — beyond just distributing pamphlets with resources or providing 1-800 numbers that end up in a nameless, faceless call center queue.

Group of Latino men playing dominos.

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”Companies that invest in the well-being of their employees always benefit,” Egan emphasizes. ”Attracting and keeping good employees is key to the success of any organization.” And some employers are getting it — sort of. At companies like Deloitte, PwC, Diageo, Deutsche Bank and Bright Horizons (which, by the way, all placed in the 2013 Working Mother’s 100 Best Companies list), employees can get backup care if an aging family member needs help. This is a great benefit in an emergency, but what if Mom or Dad need something more permanent, beyond the 20 days allowed per year? Yes, there are options, but they are often private and usually expensive.

Companies that invest in the well-being of their employees always benefit.

Some companies, like PNC Financial, provide services such as counseling, in-home assessments and community resource recommendations. Other companies are recognizing the need for better benefits, like flexible work schedules and caregiving leaves. These businesses are usually larger and well established (because, face it, benefits are expensive), but there are also enlightening and common characteristics of companies that provide the best benefits: more ethnic diversity in senior management, more part-time workers and more women in the workforce. 

So, there is hope, but in light of staggering statistics about our aging population, it’s not enough. As a nation facing a diminishing workforce and a burgeoning older population, we need to find effective solutions to support working caregivers and make life more manageable for everyone – now, and in the very near future. 


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