Leave Management, Policy, and Compliance

Bracing for the Boomer Bomb: How Senior Care Will Impact Your Workplace

Stories of companies introducing and expanding maternity and paternity leave plans have been well documented in the media. Whether a byproduct of the talent wars or recognition that there is, indeed, a business case for family-friendly benefits, these new supports are a net positive for new parent employees. But care is not reserved solely for children.  What about those employees who have aging parents?

caregiving

Changes in demographics and family dynamics over the past decades have led us to a place where a large percentage of our workforce is responsible for caring for loved ones at both ends of the age spectrum. Our workplaces, in turn, must update outdated policies and benefits programs to account for new paradigms.

Parental leave has, at times, dominated the narrative around employer-provided supports for working families. This is a critical focus area, as Millennials are both the largest workforce demographic and the largest percentage of new parents. But we must also consider increasing care demands at the other end of the lifecycle–senior care–where demographic shifts are equally compelling.

The U.S. population of adults ages 65 and older is expected to balloon from 43 million to nearly 73 million by 2030. And on top of that, the population of people ages 85 and older has more than doubled in the past few decades. The good news is that more people are living longer than they used to.  The bad news?  There’s a commensurate rise in the number of family caregivers navigating complex senior care issues, often while working full-time.

According to AARP, 60% of family caregivers in the workforce say elder care responsibilities have had a negative impact on their careers. The distraction, absenteeism and turnover associated with often stressful caregiving roles is resulting in lost productivity costs for employers that some estimates put as high as $38 billion annually.

Smart companies and HR leaders are responding to these changes with programs and policies that reflect the realities of today’s workforce and are designed to mitigate the impact of this Silver Tsunami on working people and the companies who employ them.

Here are some ways your organization can brace for the Boomer Bomb:

Offer Paid Family Leave

Microsoft was in the news recently for introducing a worldwide leave policy that allows employees to take up to 4 weeks to care for sick children and family members. In a LinkedIn announcement, Microsoft Chief People Officer, Kathleen Hogan, explained the new benefit will help employees balance work and caring for loved ones, while demonstrating commitment to employee wellbeing and care.

“As I hear from employees who are in the sandwich generation … I am keenly aware that these employees may face the decision of how to prioritize work while caring for a family member,” Hogan wrote. “In all these scenarios, the birth of a child, one’s own health needs, or the needs of a close family member, one thing is certain: employees need flexibility and support to make a decision that’s best for them.”

With the announcement, Microsoft joins a growing list of companies investing in paid leave policies that cover the whole family and all types of care. Deloitte and Nike introduced family leave policies in 2016. Earlier this year, Facebook announced 6 weeks of leave for employees to care for a sick relative, as well as generous new bereavement leave policies.

Family leave policies are important protections at a time when millions of hard-working people are struggling to balance caring for their families and their own health without jeopardizing financial stability or their careers. Only about 14% of workers have access to paid family leave, and only 60% have access to unpaid leave through FMLA.

In the absence of a federal paid family leave policy, employers who offer family leave are well positioned to attract employees who have or anticipate having care responsibilities. Further, paid leave policies have been shown to have a positive impact on retention of working caregivers.  Based on a study of 250 companies that provide the benefit, Boston Consulting Group found paid family leave increased productivity, retention, employee morale, and brand equity.

Embrace Whole-Family Care

Paid family leave is just one of many options for employer-provided elder care assistance. For example, the most recent National Study of Employers found that 42% of employers provide information about services for elderly family members. These resource and referral benefits are more common among larger employers (63%) than smaller ones (38%).

Another less common, but hugely valuable, benefit is backup care for children and adults. Caregivers miss an estimated 7 days of work each year due to caregiving responsibilities, according to the Northeast Business Group on Health. When companies can offer a reliable way for employees to find coverage after normal care arrangements fall through, it’s a proven way to relieve employee stress and reduce costly absenteeism.  In a 2016 Care.com Senior Care Survey, nearly half (47%) of families said they’d find subsidized back-up care for emergencies most useful if their employer offered care-related benefits.

A key difference between senior care and child care is that elder care issues often arise suddenly. The situations are frequently medical and often complicated and highly stressful. Imagine playing phone tag at work with your siblings to coordinate a care plan for your mother who fell and broke her hip?

In response to the complex challenges of senior care, some companies are turning to outside experts to provide assistance. These advisers can lend a knowledgeable hand to guide employees through the creation of customized care plans, tackling everything from types of care to financial issues.

Of equal import is walking the talk.  The best benefits are meaningless if employees are reluctant to use them.  It’s essential to create a culture that encourages utilization and allows employees to bring their whole selves to work without fear of negative consequences. Management training and formalized coverage plans for leave and transition periods are important components of this larger framework.

Senior executives should lead by example, as Mark Zuckerberg did when taking his paternity leave, and employees dealing with senior care issues should be given and made to feel the same level of support as colleagues managing child care.

None of these benefits by themselves are guaranteed to provide shelter from the Boomer Bomb. But each are valuable components of an employer value proposition that recognizes the realities of today’s workforce.

As the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Care.com, Al Zink directs all Human Resources initiatives for the company’s employees worldwide, including talent acquisition, total rewards, education and organizational development, policy, and HR systems. With more than 30 years of Human Resources experience in fast-growing global enterprises, Al was most recently the vice president of Human Resources at QuantiaMD, which brings physicians together in an online community.

Care.com offers customized benefits packages through their Care@Work enterprise business, offering an array of services such as in-home adult backup care, for when normal care plans fall through, and senior care planning, guiding employees through care crises and creating a customized plan for adult loved ones.