The blockbuster articles and books on work/life balance tend to focus on women’s decisions early in their careers around work and children. Those decisions have been hot buttons for the more than 30 years I’ve been in the workplace, and they clearly do have an impact on how far and how fast women progress in their careers.
But the impact of elder care is also a detriment to many women’s (and men’s) career progress. Caring for elder parents and in-laws hits employees just when they are in their forties and fifties and reaching their peak earning years.
The Alzheimer’s Association reports that 43.5 million adult caregivers are caring for someone at least 50 years old, and more than 15 million people provide unpaid care to someone with dementia. One in three seniors now has some form of dementia by the time they die.
According to a Sloan Work and Family Research Network report in 2008, nearly 60% of those caring for an adult over the age of 50 were working, with the majority working full-time (citing MetLife Mature Market Institute & National Alliance for Caregiving, 2006). A more recent study by AARP supports these statistics. See Understanding the Impact of Family Caregiving on Work, by Lynn Feinberg & Rita Choula (AARP Public Policy Institute Fact Sheet 271, October, 2012).
These figures indicate that well over 25 million working adults are providing care for older people. And the number is growing.
When we talk about preserving your career path by “leaning in,” we should consider the impact of elder care on careers as well as earlier career decisions. AARP reports that 68% of caregivers have to make work accommodations because of elder care responsibilities. They arrive at work late or leave early, they take time off, they cut back on work hours, they change jobs, or they stop work entirely.
Sounds a lot like the work adjustments that working parents sometimes make, doesn’t it?
As employers consider work/life issues and develop workplace policies, it is important to remember that the problems of balancing a job with other aspects of life do not stop when the kids reach school-age, or even when the kids leave home. For too many workers, another generation of work/life issues begins about the time that childcare responsibilities end. Flexibility is appreciated at all stages of employees’ careers.
I do not advocate government mandated regulations to address individual employee’s needs. But I do advocate careful consideration by managers and HR professionals as they balance what their business success demands with what employees need to be most effective on a long-term basis.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 86.1% of large companies surveyed offer some elder care services to their employees. For best practices on how employers can help with elder care, see Study Highlights Best Practices in Workplace Elder Care Programs, by Kathy Gurchiek.
What has been your experience with employees who are also involved in elder care?