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Ending the caregiving drain: Good for your bottom line

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As a full time administrative assistant at a local educational institution, Susan is a typical worker. She also has a typical “second shift” job — taking care of her aging parents. Her mom has end-stage dementia and her dad is too frail to care for himself or his wife any longer.

Susan’s employer loses about an hour’s worth of productivity from her each day as she answers calls from doctors, the home care workers, and the pharmacy.

She has taken time off to take her parents to the doctor and sometimes has to leave suddenly when a health care crisis pops up.

Susan’s co-workers are sympathetic but upset when they are left to do Susan’s work.

Susan is exhausted and her employer suspects that while she is at work, she is not working to her full capacity because she is distracted by her worries about her parents’ needs.

Sound bad? It is. However, the bottom line problem is that there are a LOT of Susans for whom caregiving, and particularly end-of-life caregiving, is a major part of every day.

According to Business, Caregiving and the Bottom Line from the National Caregivers Library (“NCL”), there are an estimated 11-16 million caregivers employed in the U.S. and the average cost to employers per working caregiver is $2,110 per year. And caregiving is not just a “woman’s issue” either, as the NCL estimates that 49 percent of all caregivers are men and that number is growing.

The NCL also states that for every person in a nursing home, there are two in the community with similar levels of care needs.

So for each person in a nursing home with around the clock aides and nurses to take care of them, there are two people, just as ill, being taken care of by a Susan who also has a full time job.

Further, this caregiving drain on business productivity and the bottom line will only increase.

The National Census Bureau estimates that the portion of the U.S. population age 65 and over will increase to 82 million people by 2050.

Chelan and Douglas County trends indicate a steady rise in the over 65 population, outpacing the rest of the state as more people retire here for the sunny weather and outstanding recreational opportunities.

What is the caregiving effect on employees?

Like Susan, employees experience work time lost, depression, anxiety, illness, and low morale, among other problems.

According to the NCL, each caregiver loses $659,000 over a lifetime due to lost wages and benefits and lost promotions.

Employees may experience resentment at being a caregiver and then feel guilty for feeling resentful. Employees may not bring up their caregiving responsibilities for fear of getting an adverse performance review or losing their job.

Further, caregivers who reported more caregiver burden, social burden, and emotional burden were more likely to have increased drinking behavior and problem drinking.

What is the caregiving effect on employers? Caregiving responsibilities result in lost productivity due to phone calls and interruptions, employees leaving work early, going from full-time to part-time, early retirement, absenteeism, and what has been called “presenteeism” when a worker comes into work even if they are sick or distracted by a family member’s needs outside of work.

These problems directly affect morale, productivity, and the bottom line.

Fear not, there is an upside to investing resources to help stop the caregiving drain.

There is good research that found that “any funds spent by the employer in helping with caregiving have a payback to the employer of three to 13 times the cost.”

So what can an employer do to make a smart investment to stop or at least slow the caregiving drain? First, recognize and quantify the effect on your bottom line as well as the potential effects on recruitment and retention. Talk to your employees and find out who is being affected.

Second, review your firm’s policies, benefits, and services that impact employee caregivers. Is there a clear leave policy?

Look at leave taken under the Family Medical Leave Act — employers are strictly bound to comply with this statute. Can you offer flexible scheduling, even if it is on an interim basis?

Train your managers and employees in this issue and build a culture of support that helps maintain loyalty among employee caregivers.

Third, learn about local resources to help caregivers such as support groups and financial assistance.

Make sure your human resources professionals can help by offering caregiver checklists, resource locaters, and referral services.

Offer training for employees on end-of-life planning and caregiving options.

Other options include flexible use of accumulated leave time, other employees donating unused leave to the caregiver employee, flexible benefit plans and employee assistance programs.

You can start small but start soon so that you can help the Susans (and Sams) in your company keep their productivity as high as possible now, and if they should need to leave for a brief time, to come back as valued employees when their caregiving responsibilities lessen or end.

Christina M. Davitt is of counsel to Ogden Murphy Wallace P.L.L.C. Her practice focuses on business matters including health law, estate planning, guardianship and probate. Christina will be presenting “Ask the Attorney: All You Wanted to Know about Health Care Decision Making for Yourself and Your Family” at Pybus University on March 22. Go to www.pybuspublicmarket.org for more information and registration.