Caring for caregivers in the workplace

The call comes when you least expect it.  You are going about your day at work with new deadlines for projects and you are feeling confident that you can accommodate your boss’s requests.  It’s late Monday afternoon and your cell phone rings.  It’s your mother telling you that your Dad is not feeling well.  Your Mom spoke to the doctor and he advised her to take your Dad to the emergency room.  You tell your Mom that you would call her later that evening to check on Dad.

The doctor admits your father to the hospital.  Mom is not in the best of health either.  She will have to be home alone and drive to the hospital to visit Dad and do her best to understand what the doctors and nurses are telling her about Dad’s condition.

You live about 2 hours away by car.  Visiting during the day will be difficult.  With pending work deadlines you feel the pressure mounting.  The first thought you have is, “I can handle this by phone and drive to visit Mom and Dad over the weekend.”  You have twin girls graduating in 2 weeks from high school and you need to finalize their prom attires and activities.

Next morning, the phone calls start early.  It was difficult to understand what Mom was explaining.  You call the doctor to get a better understanding of Dad’s condition.  You leave your cell phone number with his office and wait for the return call.

The phone becomes your constant companion; it accompanies you to meetings, lunch appointments and everywhere you go.  Inevitably, the doctor returns the call during meetings.  It only gets worst when specialists join the team of doctor consultants.

You schedule two personal days and leave the office late Thursday evening with plans to return early Tuesday morning.  You take your computer and Blackberry with you, believing that you will get work done over the weekend.  That proves to be another good idea that does not work.  Now Dad needs surgery.

Mom is falling apart and you are the closest sibling to your parents.  Providing emotional support for your Mom, answering questions of your siblings, concerned relatives and unable to fulfill your daughters’ requirements, leaves you exhausted.

Your work is not getting done, you have a deadline on Tuesday and you are expected back at work.  You call your boss, informed him that you will miss the deadline and promised to get him the work no later than Wednesday morning.  Your boss understands and you’re able to breathe a sigh of relief.  You leave the hospital Monday evening thinking that things are under control.  Your final words to Mom are, “I will speak to you Tuesday evening when I get home from work.”

The week goes pretty well, given the situation with your parents.  The following Friday you leave work early and drive back to your parents’ home.  Dad is home from the hospital and Dad is a lot calmer.  The next situation that has to be resolved is how to get Dad to his doctor appointments.  Mom is not comfortable driving since her last accident.  You speak with neighbors and friends, who said they would be happy to help and patch together a schedule for the following week.  All seems well, that is until Dad is rushed back to the hospital and you have to leave the office again to be with your Mom.

This is now the third week dealing with this family emergency and your understanding boss is starting to show signs of irritation with your absence from work.  He alluded to your lack of focus and constant phone calls.  You decided to use up your last week of vacation to be with your parents.

Dad is only in the hospital overnight.  Your Mom is told by the social worker at the hospital that she must have help in the house to assist with Dad on discharge from the hospital.  Visiting nurses will come to change the dressings and check on his recovery.  It was also recommended that someone will be needed to assist with his activities of daily living.

The question is who provides these types of services; how is it paid for; can you assist with the costs; should you take leave and help them out for the next month until the situation stabilizes?  What do you do about your job?  How much more is your boss willing to handle and accept your absent from work?  You cannot afford to loose your job, but at the same time, you want to be there for your parents.

Now let’s take a look at the cost and pressure to your company when employees are faced with managing work, young families and aging parents.

“More than 65 million people, 29% of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one” (Caregiving in the United States; National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP; November 2009).

Statistics show that six in every ten caregivers are employed,  (MetLife Study of Working Caregivers and Employee Health Costs; National Alliance for Caregiving and MetLife Mature Market Institute; February 2010).

“Seventy three percent (73%) of family caregivers who care for someone over the age of 18 years, either work or have worked while providing care; sixty six (66%) have had to make some adjustments to their work life, from reporting late to work to giving up work entirely; and 1 in 5 family caregivers have had to take a leave of absence” (Caregiving in the United States; National Alliance for Caregiving in Collaboration with AARP. November 2009).

American businesses lose as much as 34 billion each year due to employees’ need to care for loved ones fifty years of age and older.  Caregivers caring for elderly loved ones cost employers 8% more in health care costs, which is estimated to be worth $13 billion per year according to MetLife Caregiving Cost Study: Productivity Losses to USA, July 2006.

There is a direct impact on the caregiver’s health while providing care to their loved ones.  Twenty three percent (23%) of family caregivers caring for loved ones for 5 years or more report that their health is fair to poor.  A documented report by MetLife Study, February 2010, found that twenty percent (20%) of employed female caregivers over the age of fifty years report symptoms of depression as compared to their non-caregiving peers.  Forty percent (40%) to seventy percent (70%) of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with approximately a quarter to half of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression (Zarit, S. 2006).  Nearly 72% of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should and fifty five percent (55%) say that they skip doctor appointments for themselves.

As these statistics point out, family caregivers in the work place experience extreme stress and have shown to age prematurely.  This level of stress can take as much as 10 years off the family caregiver’s life.  Depending on the employee’s position in the organization, the impact on productivity could be monumental.

What are some of the solutions?

* Educate yourself and your organization about the different types of services available in the community.  Most towns and cities have social services departments that can be instrumental in educating your employees about services such as Adult Day Care for aging parents, or Senior Centers that provide outings and a host of stimulating activities on a daily basis
* Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a good benefit to offer.  If your company is not large enough to have a full service Human Resource Department (HR), partner with an organization that can connect you with large EAP programs and services
* Invite home health care companies to make presentations to your staff to educate them on the various services available  to assist with caring for their elderly loved ones
* Set up flexible saving plans that can be structured to enable your employees to put aside money to be used for the costs associated with caring for their aging parents
* Offer Long Term Care Insurance benefits that employees can purchase for themselves if they become ill from caring for their loved ones
* If you are aware of the employee family situation, offer Family Medical Leave.  Understand The Family Medical leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) for the state of New Jersey.  This law protects the jobs of certain employees who wish to take time off from work in order to:
1. Treat or recover from their own serious medical condition.
2. Care for a seriously ill child, spouse, or parents (not in-laws).
3. Spend time with a newborn or newly adopted baby.

Who are America’s caregivers?  Roselyn Carter said it best, “There are only four kinds of people in the world, those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers.”

Caring for families are real life situations that affects all companies and it can happen to you personally as well.

Does your company have policies in place to support your employees during such challenging and emotional times?

Here are a few websites that can help you get started:

Article written by Cecile E. Sutherland & Eydie Shapiro

On September 30, 2010, posted in: Senior Home Care by

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