What can employers do to meet the demand for eldercare?

As more employees find themselves caught between caring for both children and elderly relatives, more employers are becoming aware of the support they may need.


If you read nothing else, read this…

  • Employers and employees appear to be becoming more aware of the importance of eldercare.
  • A number of benefits can help to support staff, such as emergency eldercare.
  • Employers should provide emotional support, flexible working, practical advice and hotlines.

This is set to become more of an issue as the population continues to age. According to the Institute of Public Policy Research’s (IPPR’s) The generation strain: Collective solutions to care in an ageing society , published in April 2014, by 2017 the number of older people needing care will outstrip the number of adult offspring able to provide this.

This is beginning to be reflected in employers’ benefits provision. For example, the Employee Benefits/Towers Watson Flexible benefits research 2014, published in April 2014, found that eldercare looked set to be one of the fastest-growing benefits offered via a flexible benefits scheme. 

Chris Minett, managing director at Ageing Works, an organisation that supports employees and families with ageing issues, says: “There is a desire for eldercare, and business recognition to be had through it, especially because there is more of an awareness of employees’ issues from an employer perspective.

“Also being an eldercarer impacts employees’ mental and physical wellbeing, as well as their finances.”

Eldercare awareness

Although awareness of the need for benefits to support carers is increasing, eldercare requirements are not a new phenomenon, with some organisations having offered such support for staff for a number of years. For example, banking organisation Santander launched a support scheme for employees with caring responsibilities in 2012.

The ability to work flexibly, enabling staff to better balance their work and caring responsibilities, is one way in which employers are offering staff support. More than a quarter (27%) of employers have introduced flexible-working initiatives to meet the needs of their ageing workforce, according to The group risk employer research published by group risk industry body Group Risk Development in January 2015.

Ben Black, managing director at care provider My Family Care, says: “There are more older people in the UK than ever before, and they are living longer, which is causing retirement age to increase. We are living in a classic sandwich generation, when many parents of young children are also taking care of ageing parents.

“The first step for employers when implementing eldercare, is to identify those employees who are eldercarers. Caring for an elderly relative is something unusual to share in the workplace, because many employees and employers do not necessarily understand the emotional aspects of it.”

Denise Keating, chief executive of the The Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion, adds: “Being part of the sandwich generation can be very stressful, so any help with career-limiting responsibilities such as eldercare can ease the pressure. Carers networks can also be great, because carers of all kinds can meet to share ideas and struggles.”

Flexible-working options, therefore, can help to ease the stress faced by carers. Ageing Works’ Minett says: “The blurring of the line between work and home is absolutely a good thing, as employers need to recognise and deal with employees’ issues in order to get the best productivity from them.”

Employers that do not currently provide eldercare solutions could face employee retention issues, says Black. “In terms of a business case, if an employer [does] not offer a sympathetic ear to staff who care for elderly relatives, staff are more likely to quit.”

However, the The  Benefits Research 2014, published in May 2014, showed that just 4% of the 256 respondents offer eldercare in any form as a core benefit and 3% offer it as a voluntary benefit. 

Keating says: “Administratively, employers need to get their heads around eldercare and provide staff with simplistic guidance.

“An advice and support strategy would work well, as employees do not necessarily know where to go or what to do when it comes to caring for an elderly relative, particularly because help is so disjointed.”

Eldercare benefits solutions

Simon Bottery, director of policy and external relations at eldercare charity Independent Age, says: “At a basic level, employers need to comply with the laws of eldercare, and the spirit of the law, by understanding the problems that eldercarers face with humanity.

“Eldercarers can experience difficult and upsetting times, so support groups can help them discuss common problems with other carers, as well as gain free legal and benefits advice.”

My Family Care’s Black believes that involving professional assistance is essential to ensuring that employees are offered the correct advice and support. “The home care system is one of the most complex systems; therefore it is likely staff will need help to know their rights and requirements,” he says. ”Although most frontline care demands can be met by the relatives of the older person, more complex needs require a professional’s approach.”

Minett adds: “Both reactive and proactive services can educate employees about the impact of the ageing workforce and eldercare.

“Reactive services include adapting an eldercarer’s role around their caring responsibilities, perhaps flexible working or working from home, and proactive services include introducing staff to the resources about the ageing workforce that are out there, usually through seminars. But those with caring responsibilities have zero time to attend seminars.”

Employers also have a key role to play in ensuring that employees are aware of the working patterns and support available to them when caring for older people. Black says: “Flexible working is something lots of employers are capable of doing now, and the best employers will provide emotional support, practical advice and hotlines.” 

According to the annual Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development  (CIPD)/Simplyhealth absence management survey,  published in October 2014, flexible working arrangements are the most common type of support for eldercarers (68%), followed by compassionate leave (53%), paid or unpaid carers’ leave (48%) and access to counselling (42%).

But even the best-laid plans can sometimes come under expected pressure. Should employees’ caring arrangements fall through unexpectedly, benefits such as emergency eldercare can be used to fill the gap. This covers employees when the unexpected occurs and the member of staff needs time off work at short notice, perhaps 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 that are available through some employee assistance programmes (EAPs) can also help staff to source care for elderly relatives.

Employee communication

Whatever support employers offer, they must ensure staff know that it is available. “Communication and marketing around eldercare need to improve to inform employees in a more effective manner, as well as engage them,” says Minett. “It’s about introducing help and making sure staff know about it.

“Smaller organisations are better placed to give advice and assistance on an ad-hoc, personal basis.”

While supporting eldercarers can be a challenge for employers, there are advantages of doing so. “It’s a lot of work for organisations to recognise eldercarers, but introducing something like a carer passport to be part of the member of the employee’s HR file and covering their caring responsibilities and how their role may need to be adapted saves that employee repeating the challenges they face to different line managers,” says Minnett.

“Or a carers’ network can comprise something as simple as a monthly private meeting or conference call, it does not cost too much and reflects progressive workplace culture.”

Keating adds: “If employers want to have a competitive edge, they should be looking for the next big thing.”

These elements are integral to effective eldercare agendas. Although it is clear that some employers are reacting to the appetite for eldercare, there is a great deal more that can be done.

Case study: JP Morgan introduces elder healthcare and dental cover

JP Morgan offices-2015

Investment and commercial banking organisation JP Morgan introduced an eldercare element to its benefits scheme Family Homecare in February 2015.

Employees can select health screening and dental cover for their parents at the current corporate rates that they and their partners receive.

The new section of the organisation’s flexible benefits portal, Elements, provides employees with the opportunity to cover themselves, their partner and both their parents and parents-in-law for homecare assistance should an unforeseen accident or illness occur.

The assistance covers help with getting dressed, preparing meals, domestic chores, getting in and out of bed, travelling home from hospital and shopping. There is also a weekly care plan included.

Adam Brooke, employee benefits and wellness manager (Europe, the Middle East and Africa), says: “We found that eldercare really resonates with our diverse workforce, especially the element of fun the Elements website provides, which our staff really buy into. We will be asking for feedback via Elements.”

Assistance is provided by a comprehensive homecare provider network with fully trained, experienced care staff, and there is no maximum age limit for parents covered.

A key selling point of the service is that it also covers unexpected or unforeseen events such as medical treatments. 

Brooke says: “On 16 February, our regional head of HR sent an email to all staff informing them of our new eldercare cover, and a couple of days later all employees received a personalised mini guide to their home address, outlining what is offered.

“We hope take-up will be between 5% and 10%, because, over the last few years eldercare has been an area that has grown immensely.”

Government pilot aims to supporting working carers

In February 2015, government ministers launched a series of pilots exploring ways to help carers balance work with caring responsibilities.

The initiative, which will be trialled in nine pilot areas including Northamptonshire, Bury, Staffordshire and Stoke. will explore how technology can be combined with professional support from the local authority, friends, neighbours and Time volunteers to ease the pressure of caring.

Possible options include enabling carers to use smartphones, email alerts and pop-up care centres to help them plan and co-ordinate formal and informal support.

The ideas are being trialled for two years as part of £1.6 million of pilot projects announced by minister for women and equalities, Nicky Morgan, and Norman Lamb, minister for care and support at the Department for Health.

The pilot areas will explore how technology can be combined with professional support from the local authority, friends, neighbours and Time volunteers to ease the pressure of caring.

The pilots will also explore how businesses can give employees with caring responsibilities more help, for example by promoting flexible-working patterns and setting up carers surgeries.