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» Work-Family Balance, The Work From Home Debate and Eldercare

work from home eldercare issuesYahoo’s CEO has stirred up some controversy and debate with her recent work-from-home ban for her company’s employees.  In case you have somehow missed the story, a memo was leaked in which the company’s head of human resources ordered telecommuting employees to begin reporting in to the office.   Yahoo’s CEO has decided to end telecommuting for her employees, in efforts at improved collaboration via face-to-face interaction.

The question of telecommuting is one that each company’s leadership must address, to determine if it makes sense for them.  A lot of the rancor on the internet about this decision comes from the fact that telecommuting is seen as a positive option for flexibility in the workforce–a way to keep employees engaged (or recruit employees) who are balancing work and other responsibilities (parenting, or caring for aging parents for example). Simply taking commute time out of the equation can give employees back extra hours even with the same level of productivity/hours worked.

This decision feels like a step backwards to many in terms of our modern work options and developing work-life balance options.  However, different jobs require different parameters and there are still a wide array of jobs with more flexibility than in years past.  In addition to attracting and retaining valuable workers, companies often benefit in cost savings (less physical infrastructure needed) and improved efficiency (a lot of studies verify this–at least with certain jobs/workers). 

The good news is that this decision has really opened up the dialog on work environments and work-life balance.  This issue is near and dear to our hearts at Aging Wisely as we assist so many working caregivers.  Overall our society benefits from having options, and supporting good, productive employees in various ways.

Framing this within the context of eldercare, here are a few statistics on caregivers and employment*:

More than one in six Americans working full or part time report assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member, relative, or friend.

Caregivers working more than 15 hours/week said caregiving significantly affected their work life.  70% of working caregivers suffer work-related difficulties due to their eldercare duties.

About 50% of caregivers report working full-time, 11% work part-time and 17% are retired.

Impacts on work and the caregiver’s economic situation range from having to quit to reducing work hours, giving up promotions and more demanding jobs or duties.  As with most work-family issues, the impact continues to disproportionately affect women.  Studies indicate women caregivers suffer a particularly high level of economic hardship, more frequently having to make alternative work arrangements.  This makes people particularly incensed about seeing these options go away.

Recruiting and retaining high quality employees remains a top issue for most industries, so companies cannot overlook these issues.  AARP offers an “Insight on Issues” regarding workplace discrimination against elder caregivers, including current legal protections for caregivers and policy and practice suggestions for companies.  Each workplace will be different as will its workers’ needs and what the employer can reasonably provide. 

However, ignoring the issue is not only bad for our society but it doesn’t make for good business.  This Forbes article demonstrates the value of employer support for eldercare and the benefits it can bring to the employer as well as the employee.  Employers can look at a range of benefits and resources they can offer employees to support them, including: flex time and flexible working arrangements such as telecommuting or job sharing, leave time (short term leave, reduced work schedule temporarily, FMLA), backup care or reduced cost care/access to eldercare help, education and support resources (EAP, counseling, support groups, seminars, online resources, referral services, a geriatric care consultation or assessment).

What can you do if you are a working caregiver–an employee facing increasing eldercare responsibilities?

  • Find out more about the possible benefits your employer currently offers.  Ask your human resources department or leadership about what kind of assistance might be available.  You can explain your desire to remain productive and discuss ways to ensure continued job performance.  Even making them aware that you are going through this issue and looking for resources can help your employer with awareness (the more they hear from employees having this issue, they may see the value in providing solutions).
  • Marshal your resources.  Plan a family meeting early on in your caregiving duties, to create as much of a team approach as possible to caring for your aging parents.  How can various family members, friends, neighbors, other helpers pitch in?
  • Evaluate your options carefully.  Consider long-term financial impacts of quitting a job or reducing hours.  Obviously the decision is personal and you have to consider many factors, but make sure you have a clear picture of options and costs (immediate and long-term).  Are there other resources (non-employer) that could help?
  • Talk to key professionals.  Before you make any major decisions, you may want to talk it over with your financial advisor and CPA (to understand your economic situation, how retirement saving would be impacted, possible tax deductions, and more).  Consider meeting with a geriatric care manager to get a handle on your parent’s immediate and potential future needs, and support options.  Plan a meeting together with your loved one and their advisors to evaluate resources (for paid care and/or qualifying for assistance).
  • If you need to ask for some concessions at work or make changes, lay out your accomplishments/contributions, offer suggestions of ways you might remain productive or contribute differently, and give specific plans for how such concessions could work while benefiting the company (i.e. specific ways your productivity can be measured and a process for “checking in” and evaluating if the new arrangement is working).
  • Take advantage of education and information.  If you have an EAP at work, they likely have disease-specific information, lists of resources and educational topics related to caregiving.  If your employer doesn’t offer anything, seek out information.  You can start with some focused research on the internet, gather some information from the local aging organization or disease-specific group (i.e. the Alzheimer’s Association) or consult with a geriatric care manager.

Working caregivers are vital to our society.  Their numbers are too big to ignore and in order to care for those in need and remain a productive society, we need to support them.  This does not mean every company should let everyone telecommute or provide on-site adult day care…but it does mean that family-work balance is a real issue that companies must contend with, and create their own balance of sorts.  

Aging Wisely offers an eldercare resource center, with fact sheets and educational materials for caregivers–it is a great place to start if you are facing these issues, along with our Florida eldercare websites and senior care linksYou can give us a call any time at 727-447-5845 or click below to get advice and resources for your eldercare concerns:

 

*Statistics from Family Caregiver Alliance

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