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LeadingEdition: E-Newsletter for Purdue University Supervisors

Taking care of the caregivers

More than 50 million people provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aging family member or friend during any given year. Whoever said that family matters must stay out of the workplace has never been a caregiving family member.

So just who are these folks who are juggling responsibilities in the workplace as well as their home space? Here is a snapshot of caregivers in the United States:

  • Nearly 60 percent of caregivers are employed either full-time or part-time.
  • The average caregiver is age 46, female, married, and working outside the home with an annual income of $35,000.
  • Although men also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50 percent more time providing care than male caregivers.
  • While caregiving is traditionally associated with women, almost 40 percent of today's caregivers are men.
  • The average length of caregiving is 4.3 years.

How does this impact the caregiving employee at work? According to the National Family Caregivers Association, due to the conflicting demands of work and caregiving, the following situations occurred:

  • 33 percent of working women experienced decreased work hours
  • 29 percent passed up a job promotion, training, or assignment
  • 22 percent took a leave of absence
  • 20 percent switched from full-time to part-time employment
  • 16 percent quit their jobs
  • 13 percent retired early

And what about the cost to the employer? Employers are now seeing the emotional and physical toll that caregiving takes on its workers. In one study, 75 percent of employees caring for adults reported negative health consequences, including depression, stress, panic attacks, headaches, loss of energy and sleep, weight loss, and physical pain. Employers suffer, too, through high health insurance costs and lost productivity.

Employers that don't offer benefits or address eldercare wind up paying for them anyway. A recent study by the MetLife Market Mature Institute and the National Alliance for Caregiving states that U.S. companies pay between $17.1 and $33.6 billion annually in lost productivity, depending on the level of caregiving involved. That equals $2,110 for every full-time worker who cares for an adult.

According to AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons), 92 percent of caregivers with intense caregiving responsibilities report major changes in their working patterns. When support and resources are not present in the workplace, there is a substantial impact on business. Absenteeism, replacing employees who quit to provide care, and other caregiving-related activities can have serious financial consequences to employers.

So what can you do to assist your harried employees, while minding business needs? Formal support is important, but even more critical is a workplace culture that sympathizes with the issues caregiving employees face and encourages workers to use available services. This must be a top-down attitude, where supervisors and managers are trained to be sensitive to staff with eldercare issues. (A Society of Human Resource Management survey claims that just 11 percent of respondents train managers on this topic.)

You can have policies on the books, but employees don't use them if they're afraid they will negatively impact their jobs. Providing basic eldercare benefits does not have to be complicated or expensive. Here are some things you can implement quite easily:

  • Get in contact with the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at 49-47707. There, you can be put in touch with a trained counselor who can help the employee navigate through all of the stresses of balancing work and family responsibilities.
  • Contact WorkLife Programs at 49-45461 for a list of community sources to hand out to employees, or refer your employee to WorkLife for assistance.

In the end, the real bottom line is the preservation of valued employees who are going through what most everyone goes through at some point. Taking care of your caregivers makes the employer the �hero of the heart.'

- Branna Smith, worklife specialist
WorkLife Programs

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LeadingEdition is an electronic newsletter for Purdue University supervisors.  It is produced and distributed by Purdue University Human Resources four times annually.  If you have questions, comments or suggestions relating to the newsletter, please call 49-41679 or email us.  Thank you.