As the population ages, employers will have to do more to support workers caring for elderly relatives, says Nicola Sullivan.
Employer support for staff with elderly relatives is still not widely available, but with an ageing population, organisations could find that they have to begin to take action to help employees balance their work and caring responsibilities.
According to Juggling work and care: The experience of working carers of older adults, published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2002, 2.7 million people now combine work with caring for an elderly relative. However, this is projected to increase to nine million people by 2037, according to It could be you, a report by the charity Carers UK.
But while the government is taking steps to help employers support employees with caring responsibilities, with last month’s launch of a national strategy entitled Carers at the heart of 21st century families and communities, it has yet to make specific provisions for staff with elderly dependants.
Lynette Swift, managing director at flexible working consultancy Swiftwork, says: “Because we now have dual-earning families where both parents are at work, it is an issue employers have to address. The government has been trying to support parents at work, but eldercare hasn’t really been a visible issue for employers, although it probably will become more of one as the population gets older. It’s obviously going to affect a different demographic sector of the workforce.”
One factor affecting eldercare provision in the workplace may be a lack of awareness and openness about the issue, says Ben Black, managing director of My Family Care.
“Far more people have elderly parents, so the diversity leader’s job is to make sure anyone with caring commitments is supported. People don’t talk about elderly parents in the same way as children, so employers often aren’t aware that employees’ parents are getting older and they are having to look after them,” he says.
Employers that want to offer benefits to support employees with eldercare issues, however, have a number of options open to them. Enabling employees to work flexibly, for example, will help them juggle their work and home lives, even if staff only need to do so occasionally if their regular care arrangements let them down at short notice.
Helping staff to source alternative care for elderly relatives at short notice can also reduce the likelihood of employees taking time off as sick leave because they have no one else to look after their dependant. Products such as Emergency Homecare, provided by My Family Care, offer access to a database of trained carers who staff can book when needed, by giving up to two hours’ notice. In order to use the service, they must first register and undergo an assessment of their dependent’s needs.
Services available through some employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can also help staff to source care for elderly relatives. Glaxosmithkline (GSK), for example, offers staff access to an EAP provided by Ceridian LifeWorks, which provides advice on how to care for elderly parents and helps employees to track down nursing homes, respite care services, home help and transportation.
Harsha Modha, director of benefits programmes at GSK, says: “We wanted a practical service for our employees with eldercare and childcare responsibilities, a one-stop shop to address all their needs. Elderly parents may not be very close to [staff], so they may be commuting long distances with their family, which can be quite stressful.”
Paul Avis, corporate development manager at Ceridian LifeWorks, adds an EAP can provide both emotional and practical support. “By providing emotional support and financial information about funding, EAPs allow an employee to adopt a more rounded, robust approach at a difficult time. This ensures they do not become unproductive when pre-occupied with their personal situation. The best approach is to back this up with information about looking after parents, which should be available as printed material and online,” he says.
Paying for a dependant’s care, however, is unlikely to be cheap. In a bid to help those workers with responsibility for caring for elderly relatives, a campaign backed by childcare and voucher providers Busy Bees and Sodexho Pass has been launched to lobby the government to introduce a tax break around eldercare vouchers, similar to that available in relation to childcare vouchers.
Some industries have already taken steps to support staff caring for elderly relatives. The charity Motor and Allied Trades Benevolent Fund, for example, opened the UK’s first workplace daycare centre in 1997, where automotive industry staff can leave an elderly relative to be cared for during the working day. While this may be outside the realms of possibility for most employers, offering eldercare perks can have advantages for organisations, helping to boost staff loyalty, productivity and engagement, and even driving down absence levels.