by Michael Haberman on July 13, 2011 · 4 comments

Eldercare has become a much bigger issue in recent years than it has been in the past. There are several reasons, prime among them is the increasing life expectancy. The pressures that accompany caring for aging parents take a toll on employees and on their employers.  Craig Schneider of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes in Caring for Parents Increasingly Costly that “One in four American adults provides care for an aging parent, a threefold increase since 1994…”

The toll or cost for employees occurs on several different levels.

  1. There is an emotional cost associated with watching your parents diminish in vitality. It hurts to watch them lose their independence at the same time you lose your independence as you pick up the responsibility of making sure they get to appointments for care and to continue some social contact.
  2. There is a financial cost. Although some parents have saved money or have insurance not all do. The adult children often take on some of the financial burden of providing care for parents. If you are taking care of a parent that is distant from you the cost of making trips, especially if a trip has to be made on short notice.
  3. There is potential career loss. Mr. Schneider reported on several employees who lost their jobs as a result of the extraordinary amount of time it took to take care of an ill parent. They were small companies that did not have to comply with Family and Medical Leave requirements. However, they did try to work with the employee but there reaches a time that situations are not going to improve and decisions have to be made. Companies have to decide or employees have to decide whether continuing in that job is possible. Even with FMLA leave it is unpaid time and it does not cover just situations of failing health. Any leave has to be associated with a serious medical condition.

There are also costs incurred on the employer’s side as well. These include:

  1. Loss of focus and attention on the part of the employee. This results in their productivity loss as well as the loss of productivity other employees who pick up the extra work burden to make up for the effected employee. According to Schneider’s research this cost employers $33.6 billion five years ago and the cost is even greater today.
  2. Physical costs associated with paying out vacations, leaves, etc.
  3. Loss of a valued employee and the potential long term effect on the business, such as customer relationships.
  4. An emotional toll associated with having to terminate an employee in that situation. Despite characterizations in the press, movies, and cartoons most employers I know, especially smaller employers, enjoy making this decision.

It is an unfortunate circumstance of the way our society is structured that female employees end up suffering more careerwise than male employees. Daughters more often take on the role of caregivers and subsequently abandon careers to care for a parent. Their marriages also suffer from the stress of loss of job, loss of privacy, loss of independence and the associated financial burden.

Is there a solution for this? I am not an advocate for governmental intervention. I am not an advocate for making employers pay for eldercare through increased paid time off. Afterall the company of the employee did not any hand in the lack of saving or planning that the employee’s parents didn’t do. Some companies, such as Home Depot  and UPS are working with insurance programs to provide eldercare, but those are just two companies. So I am not really sure what a solution is for today.

I do know that the solution for tomorrow is education today! Insurance companies, social agencies and employers need to work to educate workers on the importance of saving for the eventual need for eldercare. Life expectancy is not going to suddenly start getting shorter. So we need to be prepared. Despite the old t-shirt saying in the picture I know my wife and I are working hard on not becoming a burden to our children. Perhaps we should get that message across to everyone.