It’s Baaaack: The Flawed Argument that Older Workers Should Step Aside

Posted Friday, September 9th, 2016| Comments Off on It’s Baaaack: The Flawed Argument that Older Workers Should Step Aside rule
Kevin E. Cahill, PhD
Research Economist
Center on Aging & Work at Boston College
Phone: 617.552.9195

Here we go again. This time it’s not coming from the mainstream media but from a research study that has a high risk of being misinterpreted. Regardless of the source, the argument that older workers should step aside is as flawed as ever.

The recent study is by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and it is titled, “A Clash of Generations? Increase in Retirement Age and Labor Demand for Youth.” The study concludes that “firms [in Italy] that were more exposed to the increase in employment duration of senior workers significantly reduced youth hirings.” The authors also state that, “Our results clearly indicate that before and after the reform [that increased the retirement age], firms that were more exposed to the increase in employment duration of senior workers significantly reduced youth hirings.”

Spoiler alert: No clash of generations is warranted here.

The findings from the study, while interesting, say little or nothing about the equilibrium impact of delayed retirements on overall youth employment. Indeed, the authors of the study, despite their choice of title, agree that “the retirement age should be as flexible as possible.”

The reason for the apparent discrepancy between the study’s title and the policy recommendation has to do mostly with the way in which the increase in Italy’s retirement age was implemented in the face of labor market rigidities. More importantly, however, research conducted on a single firm or group of firms over a short time horizon is too narrowly focused to draw conclusions about broader economic impacts. For sure, it is true that some younger workers might miss out if their employer postpones the promotion or hiring of a younger worker in favor of retaining an older one. This “boxed-economy” or “lump of labor” view of the world certainly makes sense on the surface as it is intuitive that a one-to-one relationship exists between new retirees and new jobs for younger workers.

The “boxed-economy” logic breaks down, though, when one considers how economies evolve over time. Firms enter and exit and jobs are constantly created and destroyed. Just as a tree sheds its leaves, these changes can be very healthy for an economy as outmoded forms of production make way for new and improved ones. Our economy grows stronger and healthier over time as a result.

It’s been five years since I made this point in a Center on Aging & Work at Boston College AGEnda blog and I would now like to propose two additional ways to address this flawed argument. The first is very straightforward: competition is not good for competitors but it is good for consumers. More older workers make the labor market more competitive; that’s bad for some younger workers, but good for employers and our economy. A more competitive labor market enables the production of more goods and services for a given level of resources. This improved efficiency frees up resources to be used in different ways that can expand our economy and provide new opportunities for everyone, including younger workers.

Second, new business models can disrupt the status quo but the result can be the proliferation of more efficient forms of production. Is it a bad thing if a store goes out of business due to competitive forces? The answer is “Yes,” I suppose, if you’re the worker getting laid off, at least in the short term. The answer is “No” for most everyone else if the store went out of business because it relied on an outdated business model and sold something few people were willing to buy at the store’s sale price. Just think of what a drag on our economy it would have been if Blockbuster video stores were forced to remain open ten years ago. Competitive forces largely drove them out because a more efficient means of production (e.g., on-line streaming) became available. We’re all better off as a result. Similarly, outdated business models and policies that forced older workers out the door have been replaced by ones in which older workers are valued and retained. That’s a good thing, even if some younger workers would have benefited from the outdated model of forcing out older workers.

Another reason this new business model is actually very good news for younger workers is that we truly want older Americans to stay working later in life. Just think of what would happen if they didn’t. Who is going to make up for any financial shortfall if a large portion of older Americans are financially vulnerable at older ages? The answer is younger workers, at least in part. This risk is very real, too, as older Americans are more exposed to market forces than were prior generations as Joseph F. Quinn and I noted in a recent article. Earnings can help solidify older Americans’ financial outlook, which benefits everyone.

For those remaining skeptics, history provides a valuable lesson. Think about what happened after WWII when women entered the labor force in droves. Did that crowd out opportunities for men? For some, yes, in the short term, but overall the result was a booming economy that benefited us all.

So there is no clash of generations. We simply need to look beyond the interim frictional issues associated with extending working lives. Once and for all let’s put to bed the flawed argument that continued work later in life for older workers implies fewer job opportunities for younger ones.

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Eldercare Is Everyone’s Issue

Posted Monday, August 8th, 2016| Comments Off on Eldercare Is Everyone’s Issue rule

Judi Casey

WorkLife Consultant
Founding Director of the Work and Family Researchers Network (WFRN)

In the past 12 months, close to 40 million Americans—one in six—provided unpaid care to an adult family member or friend. In addition, approximately 34 million Americans were caring for someone age 50 or older. Who are these caregivers and what do we know about them?

One might want to generalize about the characteristics of these 40 million caregivers; however, according to Caregiving in the U.S. 2015, a report of the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, the profile of the typical caregiver is:

  • 49-year-old female
  • Employed full-time (nearly 35 hours per week, on average)
  • Taking care of a female relative who is age 69 or older and has a long-term physical condition
  • Providing care for four years on average
  • Spending almost 25 hours each week on caregiving tasks and obligations
  • Totally responsible for all caregiving commitments without support from other family members or professionals (e.g., aides, respite care, day treatment)
  • Reporting an average household income of $54,700
  • Married or living with a partner
  • In very good or good health
  • A high-school graduate with some college involvement but without an undergraduate degree

Since we know that 60% of caregivers are women, it follows that 40% of caregivers are men.  What do we know about the typical male caregiver?  His profile looks like this:

  • 48 years old
  • Employed full-time (nearly 38 hours per week, on average)
  • Taking care of a 69-year-old female relative who has a long-term physical condition
  • Providing care for 3.9 years on average
  • Spending 23 hours each week on caregiving tasks and obligations
  • Receiving help from unpaid but not from paid caregivers
  • Reporting an average household income of $58,300
  • Married or living with a partner
  • In very good or good health
  • A high-school graduate with some college involvement but without an undergraduate degree

These profiles are quite similar. The main differences are that male caregivers tend to have unpaid help from others, while female caregivers go it alone. Female caregivers report two additional hours of caregiving responsibilities each week. Male caregivers earn more money, but also spend three additional hours each week at their jobs.

But not all caregivers are in their late forties. Millennials between the ages of 18 and 34 represent nearly a quarter of all caregivers, with equal numbers of millennial men and women in the caregiving role. The profile of the typical millennial caregiver is:

  • 27 years old
  • Employed full-time, for an average of 35 hours per work
  • Just as likely to be providing care now as to have provided care in the previous year (50% in each category)
  • Taking care of female relative—often a parent or grandparent—not quite 60 years old who has a physical condition
  • More likely than those in other caregiver groups to be taking care of a person with mental health issues
  • Providing care for an average of 2.8 years
  • Reporting an average household income of $42,200
  • Just as likely to be married or living with a partner as not (half are and half aren’t)
  • In excellent or very good health
  • A high-school graduate with some college involvement but without an undergraduate degree

A 2015 survey from Ceridian LifeWorksDouble Duty: The Caregiving Crisis in the Workplacefound that millennial caregivers are different from other caregivers, in that:

  • 64% are living with at least one care recipient
  • 37% are calling in sick or pretending to be sick in order to leave work so they can provide care

Another group of caregivers to keep in mind is the “sandwich generation”: those who are responsible both for their own children and for older adults. According to the Pew Research Center (2013), 71% of sandwich generation caregivers are ages 40 to 59; 19% are younger than 40 and 10% are 60 or older. Men and women are equally represented in the sandwich generation. The Pew Research survey also found that:

  • Almost half of 40- and 50-year-old adults have a parent age 65 or older, as well as responsibility for a young child, or financial responsibility for an older child (age 18 or older)
  • Approximately 15% of the sandwich generation provide financial resources both for their children and an aging parent

Interestingly, part of the pressure on sandwich generation caregivers comes from needing to support their adult children. For example, 73% of caregivers in their 40s and 50s have given some financial resources to a child (age 18 or older), in comparison with 32% who have helped a parent who is age 65 or older.

Although one would anticipate that the pressures of these dual responsibilities are formidable for the sandwich generation, the Pew Research survey found that sandwich generation adults are just as satisfied with their lives as other adults are, with 28% reporting that they are “very happy,” and 51% indicating “pretty happy.”

So what’s the bottom line? It seems clear that caregivers are a diverse group and are likely to become even more so in the future. As the population ages and life expectancy rises, the need for caregivers will increase. Caregivers are men and women, all ages, all ethnicities, employed or not, and with or without children. We need to design policies and work environments that support these family caregivers, who are more and more likely to be distributed across the whole workforce. Caregiving is everyone’s issue!

For employers
Learn more about Employer Solutions for Family Caregivers


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Effective Recruitment Strategies for Older Workers

Posted Wednesday, June 29th, 2016| Comment (1) rule

Judi Casey

WorkLife Consultant
Founding Director of the Work and Family Researchers Network (WFRN)

When it comes to workforce planning, it’s all about the numbers – of people, that is.  Demographic data suggest impending labor shortages and increasingly tight labor markets, due to projections of weak growth in the working age population over the next 15 years. Continued immigration will help to fill some of the gaps, however, an increasing number of older workers are healthy and motivated to continue working. They could fill some of these deficits in the talent pool, and might want to do so for several reasons: to supplement their current income or retirement funds, obtain health insurance benefits, pursue an encore career, or just to remain active in the world of work.

Yet, some strong biases exist against hiring older workers. Nearly 60% of 1,500 U.S. workers ages 45 to 74 surveyed by AARP in 2008 reported that they sensed or observed negative perceptions of their status as older workers either while at work or during recruitment. In Managing the Older Worker: How to Prepare for the New Organizational Order, the authors found that age bias trumps both gender and race bias; for example, a majority of Internet technology recruiters were not willing to hire someone over 40.

In contrast with these findings of bias, the Aging Workforce Research Initiative, a survey conducted in 2014 by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the SHRM Foundation, found that human resources (HR) professionals have a very positive opinion of older workers. Approximately 70% of this survey’s respondents indicated that older workers are more professional and have a stronger work ethic than their younger counterparts do.  More than 75% viewed the work experience of older employees positively.

Other studies found the perception that older workers add value to organizations, by bringing to the job considerable knowledge, varied skill sets, reliability, and flexibility around scheduling.

What, then, is the best way to recruit older workers for your organization? Here are some suggestions:

  • Employ nontraditional outreach strategies such as partnerships with national and community organizations connected with older adults, such as senior associations and senior-related websites.
  • Use personal and professional connections to solicit employee referrals, target your retired workers for rehire, and reach out to volunteer organizations or retiree associations.
  • Present your organization as “age-inclusive,” using language and imagery that reflects all age groups in your recruiting materials.
  • Develop benefits packages that respond to the unique needs of older workers: eldercare supports, financial planning resources, and flexible work options (telework, reduced hours, nontraditional schedules, and short-term or seasonal assignments).
  • Provide accommodations for the preferences and physical limitations of older workers.
  • Implement ongoing training and shadowing programs as well as opportunities for two-way mentoring.
  • Design training and diversity awareness programs for hiring managers, both to keep them up-to-date on the business case for hiring older workers and to send a message that their recruitment efforts need to consider all potential candidates.
  • Explore how recruitment strategies that target older workers could be used to engage other employee populations. Workers of all ages desire meaningful work and opportunities to learn and develop, and they want to be treated fairly and with respect.
  • Communicate how hiring older workers has enhanced and benefited your organization to counter some of the stereotypes associated with hiring them.

Employers are wise to consider that the best person for the job with the right fit for their organizations might be an older worker.

For employers
Benchmark yourself against similar employers in recruitment strategies, as well as other policies, and get customized tips: Workforce Benchmark Tool

Learn more
About Recruitment, Retension, Tenure, and Turnover: Facts Database


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Retirement and Social Engagement: Which “Third” Are You?

Posted Tuesday, June 7th, 2016| Comments Off on Retirement and Social Engagement: Which “Third” Are You? rule

Erika L. Sabbath, ScD

Assistant Professor
Boston College School of Social Work
Phone: 617-552-2934

How do you imagine your retirement?
If you’re like most people, you envision an active engagement with life: playing sports and pursuing hobbies, spending time with your family and friends, volunteering, taking active roles in political or religious groups, and involving yourself in professional organizations. Your retirement dream is that you’ll do everything you always wanted but never had time to do when you were working.

Then again, if you’re like most people, your dream has a shadow side. If, like many of us, you find and build some of your closest relationships at work, you wonder if those relationships will endure when you retire. And if they don’t endure, will retirement gradually erode and destroy your social connections? With declining health, some cherished activities (such as physically demanding sports) might become less appealing, or even possible, making retirement a time of less—not more—social engagement. When you think about this possibility at all, it is usually with a measure of dread.

Does retirement mean more or less social engagement? 
What does the evidence say?  In a recent study published in the European Journal of Ageing, my coauthors and I investigated this question. We used data from GAZEL, a longitudinal study (1989–2007)of more than 10,000 French utility workers. We focused only on those who had retired between 1992and 2004; they ranged in age (as of 2004) from 51–65. To track their patterns of social engagement in the years immediately before and after retirement, we used three measures: activity in social organizations, number of close friends, and number of close family members. We wanted to know the extent to which these measures increased or decreased over a relatively long period. Did people on the whole have more close friends before or after retirement? Did they spend more or less time on socially engaging activities? Did they have more or fewer close family members?

We found no single direction of change. About a third increased their level of social participation; another third maintained their preretirement level of social participation; and another third decreased their level of social participation. Retirement itself had no direct effect on social engagement in our study. Instead, we found that what “third” a person ended up in during retirement was influenced by what had occurred before retirement officially began. For instance, people who had lower-status jobs before they retired were more likely to be less socially engaged as their retirement progressed than those with higher-status jobs.  And these patterns of social engagement tended to persist and even intensify over time, with the potential to create widening inequality in social engagement and (because social engagement affects health status) eventually in health and well-being.

This finding suggests that organizations and programs aiming to improve social participation at older ages should target workers well before they actually retire. People tend to perpetuate and magnify in retirement the degree of social participation they practiced during their preretirement years. For us as individuals, knowing that our levels of social engagement before retirement tend to be carried forward and magnified during the retirement years can be a powerful motivator for us to continually create and nourish those connections throughout our adult lives. When you think about what third you will be in on the social engagement scale during your retirement years, keep in mind that when it comes to building social engagement, there’s no time like the present.

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Retirement Security: It’s Not Just About the Money

Posted Friday, May 20th, 2016| Comments Off on Retirement Security: It’s Not Just About the Money rule
Christina Matz-Costa, PhD
Senior Research Associate
Center on Aging & Work at Boston College
Assistant Professor
School of Social Work, Boston College
Phone: 617.552.1634

The issue of retirement security gets frequent attention in the media, for the simple reason that many workers are not building the financial resources that they will need to maintain an acceptable standard of living after their retirement. As much as financial planners and media tell workers that their retirement income should meet or exceed about 70% of their preretirement income (replacement rate), many Americans will fall far short. The expectations of employers in helping their employees to build retirement wealth are spelled out in laws such as ERISA, and pensions exceeding those minimums are one of the most frequently sought-after benefits among employees.

Investment in Psychological Security Post-Retirement

With all the attention paid to financial retirement security, psychological retirement security has gotten short shrift. In American culture, paid employment is a central part of many people’s identities—a way through which they are a contributing member of their families and society. But, retirement security isn’t just about money — it’s also about meaning and identity. Even those who say they hate their jobs often find meaning or purpose in bringing home a paycheck. What happens when that disappears?

Retirement can be a shock for workers who do not have enough resources to replace the psychological benefits that they got from work. Workers are constantly told to diversify their financial investments, but almost never warned that they should diversify their psychological investments, as well. How can workers be better prepared to replace both the financial and psychological benefits of paid employment?

Many workers are answering this question partly by staying in the workforce longer.  Some continue a successful career, while others move into retirement by scaling down their responsibilities gradually. Many seek bridge jobs to transition from full-time jobs to retirement. Gradual retirement, under the best of circumstances, can create a window of opportunity during which workers can build their financial and psychological retirement security. On the financial side, they may benefit from income and health insurance, among other benefits, from their less-demanding paid jobs. On the psychological side, they can explore new interests and roles—such as caregiving and volunteering — without disconnecting entirely from the psychological benefits of work. This can help them to remain engaged in productive activities as they age.

The Benefits of Bridge Policies

The sad truth, however, is that not all workers have good options for gradual pathways out of the labor force. Many older workers face long-term unemployment and, when older workers leave their jobs, their new jobs are often much less desirable in terms of benefits and pay. Others have to decide between retiring abruptly and continuing full-time because their employer doesn’t offer other options, and because part-time options in their field are limited. Employers who offer bridges between a full workload and full retirement can be a powerful force in building their employees’ financial and psychological security.

Many employers would support “bridge” policies, such as phased retirement, simply to do the right thing for their employees. But employers also have a vested interest in adopting these policies. Gradual retirement can build in time for succession planning, knowledge management, and retention of the valued skills and abilities of older workers. Yet, evidence suggests that the business community greatly undervalues bridge policies. For instance, the 2015 Talent Management study conducted by the Center on Aging & Work found that the leaders of American organizations typically are less committed to options for post-retirement-age work than they are to other benefits, such as training and development or competitive pay.

For employers
Benchmark yourself against similar employers in options for continued work and retirement, as well as other policies, and get customized tips: Workforce Benchmark Tool.

Learn more

About Flexible Work Options: Quick Insights from the 2015 Talent Management Study

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Little-Known Facts about Flexible Work Options

Posted Tuesday, April 26th, 2016| Comments Off on Little-Known Facts about Flexible Work Options rule
Jacquelyn B. James
Co-director, Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Research Professor, Lynch School of Education, Boston College

Even though many aspects of workplace flexibility are common knowledge, some have received scant attention and deserve more, because their effectiveness has been demonstrated clearly by research and practice. By the same token, other aspects—also seldom discussed—have negative consequences that should be recognized. Here are some examples.

Flexible work options can be appropriate for hourly and low-wage workers.

We tend to think of professional and managerial workers as prime beneficiaries of flexible work options, because many people in these jobs already make their own hours. In other jobs, such as retail sales and food service, flexible work options are unusual. The reason seems clear enough: Employers need to have workers on the job to keep stores and restaurants well-staffed during business hours. So add flexible work options to the list of benefits beyond the reach of low-wage workers that more privileged employees take for granted.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In 2008, Jennifer Swanberg, a professor of social work at the University of Maryland, and I surveyed hourly and professional employees of a national retail chain. Our CitiSales study (linked below) found that managerial support and innovative thinking made flexible work options realistic even for the chain’s low-wage hourly sales staff. Our study also showed that employees who have these options are more engaged in their work than those who don’t.

Flexible work options can happen even in the absence of organizational support.

In organizations that lack flexible work option policies, some managers implement them anyway—informally, but with commitment. These supervisors are “positive deviants,” going against the grain in the interests both of employees and the business. For example, one might tell an employee that it’s okay to take a longer lunch to check on an ailing parent, so long as the time can be made up later. Or a coworker might be allowed to swap shifts with a friend whose childcare fell through. Or an employee’s work schedule might be kept free on a given night so the employee can serve on the school board. Acts like these can be contagious in an organization when others see how well they work for the employee and the business.

Flexible work options (or the lack thereof) affect the whole work group, and sometimes those effects can be negative.

Most workers understand that the availability of flexible work options affects the whole group, not just the employees who uses them. On the plus side, these options—even to workers who don’t use them— are signals that the employer cares about the staff’s well-being. Thus, studies show  that policies used by only a few employees can have positive effects on the engagement and organizational commitment of the workforce as a whole.

Unfortunately, if the options aren’t well managed, their effects on the workforce can be negative. A worker might use a flexible work option again and again to trade for a more desirable shift, leaving others to take the undesirable shifts more often than they would otherwise. It’s easy to imagine the mounting dissatisfaction and resentment that such a policy could cause, if a supervisor did not step in to manage the fairness of the employee’s requests. As the results of this center’s Time & Place Management study show, successful flexible work options need to be actively managed. Both supervisors and workers need to understand that “no” can be a legitimate answer to a request for a flexible work option, if the effects on the work group would be counterproductive.

Painting the benefits of flexible work options with a broad brush can have a negative impact on morale, too. Employers and workers need to understand that, although flexible work options can be a win-win proposition, they work best with careful and ongoing management.

For employers

Benchmark yourself against similar employers in flexible work options, as well as other policies, and get customized tips: Workforce Benchmark Tool

Learn more

About Flexible Work Options: Quick Insights from the 2015 Talent Management Study
About Schedule Flexibility in the Workplace: Employee Access and Use, Implementation and Effectiveness
About the CitySales Study: Study Description
About the Time & Place Management Study: Study Description

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Passion, Purpose, and Impact: The Encore Secret Sauce

Posted Wednesday, April 6th, 2016| Comments Off on Passion, Purpose, and Impact: The Encore Secret Sauce rule
Jim Emerman
Jim Emerman Executive Vice President,
Guest Blogger, The Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

About a year ago, I asked in AGEnda if wisdom that deepens with age, when joined with a passion for leaving the world a better place, translate into a unique path to social impact. Is there a special “encore career” secret sauce, one that allows someone with maturity and the desire to give back to have a super-sized impact?

At the time,, where I work, was embarking on research to see whether programs that use what we call “encore talent” experience forms of impact that make a sometimes unexpected and often substantial difference.

Two recent reports suggest the answer is yes.

Masters in Service to Society

The first, “The Encore Talent Impact Project: A Study of Encore Talent at Work,” reports on the observations of more than 100 supervisors and managers in social-purpose organizations on the impact of nearly 1,700 people in encore roles. One of the biggest surprises from the data is that many introduced improvements conventionally associated with the work of full-time, paid staff—such as contributing new approaches, tools, and ideas to the organization.

The second, “Doing Good by Doing Well: Encore Fellows Build Nonprofits’ Capacity to Serve Children and Youth,” reports on three case studies. The author, Jacquelyn B. James, co-director of Boston College’s Center on Aging and Work (which hosts the AGEnda blog), teases out the dynamics whereby Encore fellows (participants in the Encore Fellowships Network, who serve one-year, stipended fellowships) combine business skills acquired over decades in the private sector with personal attributes to deliver exceptional value to the organizations they serve. For example, across all three cases, she noted that the fellows brought an ability to organize networks and groups, patience with process, good listening and negotiation skills, and a generally high level of emotional maturity.

Here’s that recipe for the “encore secret sauce.” The attributes that Dr. James observed are reflected precisely in the literature on mastery. And when we asked the respondents in our Encore Talent Impact survey whether the characteristics of mastery were present in the people they supervised, very high percentages said they were. For example,  more than 80 percent of these encore engagements were carried out by people who “successfully explained, mentored, coached and built relationships with others. 

Opening the Door to Encore Talent

It’s important to recognize that these characteristics, so tied to our notions of wisdom, translate into impact at a time when many people are rethinking the so-called “retirement years,” seeking instead to use their time and accumulated experience to improve their communities or to help future generations succeed.

We also know that often, abundant desire does not find its match in opportunity. According to 2014 research, 21.5 million people hope to move into social-purpose encore roles. But stubborn barriers still keep experienced adults from making the most of their talents in organizations that could benefit from them. Ageist stereotypes about the productivity of older people, whether in volunteer or paid roles, persist. And many nonprofits still won’t gamble on people coming to them from a corporate background. “They won’t fit in our culture,” they say.

It’s time to break down the barriers that keep talented people who want to serve from contributing to the nonprofit sector, which badly needs their talents. Nonprofits that understand the “secret sauce” of wisdom, experience, and mastery will welcome encore-stage adults in service of their mission. As these two reports illustrate, they’ll reap significant gains.

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Building Usability: 3 ways for employers to create a supportive environment for working caregivers

Posted Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016| Comments (3) rule
McNamara' photo Tay K. McNamara, PhD
Senior Research Associate
Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Phone: 617.552.8971
Kathleen McInnis-Dittrich Kathleen McInnis-Dittrich, PhD
Associate Professor
School of Social Work

Caregiving is an unavoidable reality for the workforce. Human resources policies such as “flexibility and breaks” and “financial supports and resources” can help working caregivers, but only if these policies move from employee handbooks to actual workplace practices. Many employees are uncomfortable about using these benefits, because they are concerned that doing so will make their coworkers, supervisors, or managers view them as less dedicated or competent, potentially jeopardizing their jobs. As Susan Eaton and others have observed, formal HR policies are insufficient if the workplace culture diminishes their usability—the extent to which employees feel free to act on those policies, confident that their career prospects and job security won’t suffer.

How can employers make caregiving policies more usable by the typical employee?

Workers: Education on site and on time

Educating workers about caregiving can help them to transition into and sustain their engagement both in work and caregiving over time. Keep in mind that employees may already be under pressure to balance work and caregiving responsibilities, so it’s smart to make caregiving-related informational resources available to workers on site and during regular work hours, preferably at times that don’t interfere with work tasks.

Lunch and learns are a good example of how to handle this. Typically offered on site during the lunch break, lunch and learns are opportunities to convey practical information to caregivers. Here are two models:

  1. Learn + share: Some of the meeting is instructional, presenting solid information on such pertinent topics as advance directives. During the remainder of the meeting, participants share ideas and process emotions.
  2. Learn from community resources: Bringing in presenters from community agencies and omitting time for participants to share their responses can appeal to employees who are not yet able, ready, or willing to make their status as caregivers known.

Coworkers and work teams: Pay it forward

Caregivers often fear that their coworkers see them as shirking or less serious about their work. Connecting these workers to coworkers (individually or as a group) in caregiving-supportive relationships can increase their confidence to take advantage of other caregiving policies. Coworker- and work team-based information and support programs often function best as pay-it-forward arrangements, in which new caregivers learn from experienced caregivers, and eventually become resources and mentors themselves.

Informal collaborations are a good way to organize such an arrangement. Here are two models:

  1.  One-on-one: An employee known to have some caregiving experience can be invited to mentor a colleague new to caregiving, helping the newcomer negotiate challenges both at work and in health service systems.
  2. On-site support groups: Employees join such a group voluntarily, and spend the first meeting brainstorming about the kinds of topics with which they could use help. Each week, group members are given “homework,” to encourage a sense of process.

Managers and supervisors: Gateways to organizational culture

Managers and supervisors have a huge influence on how comfortable workers feel about using their caregiving-related benefits. For this reason, both groups must buy in to the idea that support for working caregivers is in the organization’s best interests.

Training and educational resources can promote buy-in. With the right training and information, managers will learn to identify employees who are caregivers and help them to connect with community services (if needed) or to negotiate flexible work schedules to accommodate caregiving responsibilities. Here are two strategies:

  1. Direct manager training: Offer training sessions in which managers learn what they can ask appropriately, how to help employees identify needs that conflict with work schedules, and what combinations of support and fair compromises by the employer they can offer.
  2. Articles in company newsletters or on company websites: These could be original pieces on caregiving issues by HR staff or produced on contract by community agencies, such as the Alzheimer’s Association or Caregivers Alliance. People who don’t like the group approach will be especially appreciative of this alternative learning method. Consider linking to such resources as Employer Solutions for Family Caregivers, as appropriate.

Creating a workplace environment where people recognize, accept, and support the organization’s policies and programs for workers with caregiving responsibilities is essential for these policies to count. Building such acceptance within your organization at the individual, coworker/work group, and managerial level, by providing information and support, can ultimately increase the usability of other work/life balance programs, as well.

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Positive Deviance: Supporting Working Caregivers

Posted Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016| Comments (2) rule
Faculty Sponsor, Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Professor, Graduate School of Social Work & Caroll School of Management, Boston College

Employees of all ages can find themselves unexpectedly navigating the unpredictable waters of elder caregiving. As they attempt to identify resources, services, and supports, many say they’re just making it up as they go along. In part, their sense of having to improvise reflects the complexities and fragmentation of the elder care service system: working caregivers learn to be grateful for whatever information and assistance come their way. Some families do figure out on their own a manageable way to look after elder relatives; often, they succeed because a nonworking family member is willing to take charge. But if everyone in a family is working, the transitions into elder caregiving can be overwhelming. According to a 2015  AARP Study, about one out of 20 employees had been forced to quit a job to care for an adult family member.

What it takes to stay

Why do experienced workers leave their jobs when caregiving responsibilities arise? Some employees are so perplexed by the sudden demands of elder care that they decide to leave the workforce so they can focus on the range of caregiving decisions they must make. Others, able to juggle work and care, want to keep their jobs, and would do so, given some flexibility and help. But if their supervisors and managers are unsympathetic, they might decide that their only choice is to quit.

In many domains of flexible workplace policy, employers have transcended some of the logistical challenges and pursued innovative talent management strategies. These employers have been called positive (or creative) deviants. The notion of positive deviance is familiar to public health experts, who have documented the benefits that early adopters of new health practices can reap: see, for example, Zeitlin, et al. on childhood nutrition (1990). Employers who are the early adopters of talent management innovations in caregiving policies and practices might find that these changes improve retention of employees with expertise and experience.

Learning from within

This country’s demographic trends leave no doubt that over the next two decades, the number of employees with caregiving responsibilities will increase. The compelling question is whether most employers are both willing and ready to partner with their employees as they plan for and manage the range of legal, financial, and caregiving challenges in store. One way for an employer to start on the path toward creative deviance is to read case studies  of programs developed by other employers. A good one is this study of Kimberly Clark, which built its Family Caregivers Network from the ground up, using resources already in place at that company. Next, an organization can search within its own ranks for managers and supervisors who have struck out on their own to support employees who have caregiving responsibilities. Learning from them, the organization can customize a formal program to suit its workforce and culture.

The experience of a large healthcare organization is a case in point. Recently, a group of colleagues and I partnered with this organization, because it wanted to adopt some innovative flexible work options. (The results are described in detail here.) Our first step was to identify supervisors who had already succeeded in making small changes that allowed for scheduling flexibility. Their experiences and stories provided both inspiration and reassurance to other supervisors in the organization when the time came to implement the new options.

Encouraging supervisors and their work teams to engage in creative problem solving can help to bridge the gap between the needs of a given organization and studies of what has worked elsewhere.

Comments (2)  for "Positive Deviance: Supporting Working Caregivers"

“But your mother lives 1200 miles away!” Using flexibility and breaks to support long-distance working caregivers

Posted Tuesday, February 9th, 2016| Comment (1) rule
Associate Professor
School of Social Work

When an employer thinks about an employee who serves as a caregiver, the image that often comes to mind is of a middle-aged woman caring for her mother, who lives relatively close to the caregiver’s home and workplace. Quick trips to handle a crisis for the care receiver or a few local phone calls hardly seem like major disruptions in the workplace. However, such demands can grow substantially as the geographic distance between the caregiver and the care receiver increases. According to a 2015 report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute—Caregiving in the U.S.—about 5 percent of those who provide 21 or more hours of care per week and 8 percent of those who provide 0–20 hours of care per week live more than two hours away from the person they are helping.

Long-distance caregiving—defined as caring for someone who is more than 100 miles away—is a critical issue for employers. Most of these caregivers are working full- or part-time, and sometimes they must rearrange work schedules, miss work, or even quit their jobs to deal with caregiving responsibilities. Keep the big picture in mind in calculating what the loss of a valued employee ultimately costs a company. If an employee cannot find a way to meet the demands of caregiving as well as the demands of the employer, he or she will probably seek different employment. The cost of recruiting and retraining employees may far outweigh the cost of offering employees opportunities for a work-life balance that suits both parties. The long-term benefits to a company of a stable, competent workforce outweigh the short-term cost of flexible work arrangements. With some thought and planning, employers can develop a proactive stance that anticipates their own needs and those of the long-distance caregivers they employ.

Here are some practical tips for employers:

  1. Consider a plan for flexible use of sick time, personal leave, and vacation time. One of the greatest challenges of long-distance caregiving is the time required to make phone calls to service and medical care providers who can be reached only during regular business hours. Flexibility in start and quit times can cover some of these needs, but developing a plan for flexible use of a caregiver’s sick time, personal leave, and vacation time can help to fill any gaps. Allowing an employee to use an hour of personal leave time to make phone calls during the work day keeps the employee at the workplace, recognizes that an employer isn’t required to subsidize the time needed to meet caregiving responsibilities, and does not unduly burden employees by forcing them to take an entire day off.
  1. Proactively offer caregivers a variety of flexibility in structuring the work environment. The need for flexible work options to accommodate frequent, often unexpected, trips to attend to a care recipient should go beyond flexible starts and stops to the work day. Long-distance caregiving requires a different time commitment than a few hours here and there. Flexible arrangements might include flexible work weeks, telecommuting, or work-at-home arrangements. Most caregiving does not go on indefinitely. These flexible options, as well as job sharing and temporary part-time employment, are arrangements that may not be needed long, and they encourage valued employees to keep their jobs.
  1. Provide opportunities for co-workers to pool benefits such as sick days, vacation, and personal time on behalf of a colleague responsible for long-distance care. In work settings with employees who are friends as well as co-workers, a collaborative approach to helping out a caregiver is excellent for company morale. Almost all employees will face some kind of caregiving responsibility in the future. The opportunity to pay it forward will be seen as a good faith effort on the part of management, generating employee loyalty.

These three approaches use flexibility and breaks as a core model for supporting long-distance caregivers in the workplace. (Click here to learn more about this model, which focuses on temporary leaves of absence or reconfiguration of work arrangements as a strategy for supporting working caregivers). Observing this model in practice demonstrates how companies can build on existing options to create a workable strategy for a wide variety of caregivers. Many employers have already put in place some of the policies just discussed. By augmenting them, many caregiving-related policy gaps can be filled.

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