Should employers provide eldercare benefits?

Posted Wednesday, September 30th, 2015  | Comments Off on Should employers provide eldercare benefits? rule
Donna L. Wagner, PhD
College of Health and Social Services, New Mexico State University

The 2015 “Caregiving in the US” Survey recently released by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP is the latest in a series of caregiver surveys that began in 1997; preceded by an 1987 survey conducted by AARP and Travelers Insurance. These “snapshots” of caregiving are instructive to policy makers, advocates, researchers and practitioners. Although the sampling approaches in the surveys vary making comparisons over time difficult, it is enlightening to see how caregiving in the U.S. has changed between 1987 and 2015.

More caregivers report they are working in the 2015 survey than in any of the previous surveys; a finding that is, by the way, consistent with other studies of family caregivers. And, for the first time, the survey asked about the provision of complicated medical tasks by family caregivers – more than half of the respondents (54%) reported they were or had been responsible for medical tasks and only 14% reported that they had been trained in that task.

Caregivers are, on average, older than in the past. In 1987, only 2% of the caregivers were over the age of 65; in 2015 nearly one in five were that age (19%).  The idea that working and aging are two factors in the lives of family caregivers is not a surprising trend. Women are more likely than men to provide care and the increase in older women who work and remain in the workplace over the next decade is pretty amazing –more than half (56.6%) of women between age 60 and 64 and 27% of women between 65 and 74 are expected to be in the workforce by 2018.

Times have changed and so has the life of the caregiver since that first survey 28 years ago. Over the nearly three decades since the first caregiving survey was conducted, there has been an increased focus on home and community based services and on the value of remaining “independent” in the community. While philosophically this focus respects the independence and autonomy of older adults, the reality is that for many, this “independence” is possible only because of family assistance.

The first workplace eldercare initiatives were started in the 1980’s in response to the caregiving surveys and an awareness of the difficulties faced by caregivers. Employers have been providing programs and benefits to employees with caregiving responsibilities since. However, according to the Society for Human Resources   data, there has been a steady decline in investment in these benefits and programs. Between 2008 when 20% of the employers surveyed were providing eldercare referral and 2014, when the current survey was being fielded, the percentage of employers providing this benefit had dropped to 5%.

Nonetheless, there are some strong programs that have withstood the test of time and are likely to provide substantial help and assistance in the future.

  • Fannie Mae’s independent geriatric care manager program helps employees with caregiving strategies and support. A valued program that has stood the test of time since it began in 1999, it is a model that has not been replicated.
  • Emory University’s recent planning for an inclusive approach to a system-wide program designed to address work-family issues is slowly coming on line and should result in better support for employees and some interesting lessons for other employers.

But, is it the role of employers to provide support services for family caregivers? Many employees have already “voted with their feet” on that topic by not using programs or benefits that are available to them. With the exception of Fannie Mae’s program, utilization rates of eldercare programs are in the single digits.

The demographics of the future includes a growing number of oldest-old Americans, many in the current generation of younger workers who “forgot to have children,” and a generation of workers who like their jobs or who can’t afford to leave the workforce. This future scenario is beyond one sector’s efforts to address and calls for some thoughtful problem solving by us all.

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Are You Sitting on a Lost Knowledge Time Bomb?

Posted Wednesday, September 9th, 2015  | Comments (1) rule
David DeLong, DBA
Smart Workforce Strategies, Concord, Mass.

Many organizations are sitting on a ticking time bomb of lost knowledge – or lost capabilities.  The common refrain is, “we have lots of veteran employees with deep knowledge of complex systems or products, and no idea how we’re going to sustain these capabilities when our people retire.” When these older workers go, the performance of their organization is going to take a big hit.

Here are four questions to determine whether retirements are likely to threaten your organization’s capabilities:

1. Are your offices or operations located in a rural, suburban or urban setting?
Organizations operating in rural settings are usually at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to recruiting replacements for highly skilled workers and managers. Not only is there a smaller talent pool to recruit from, but it is also harder to entice younger talent to relocate to your part of the world. If you’re running this type of operation, or have part of your organization in a rural setting, you need to plan even further ahead for key transitions because it will take longer to fill those roles.

2. Are you clear about which jobs matter and which don’t?
All jobs are not created equal when it comes to sustaining critical capabilities. An industrial distribution company in the Midwest has a 70-year-old salesman who is their only expert in making and selling hydraulic hose couplings. Top management recently reclassified him as a hydraulics specialist, so he could focus on transferring his unique knowledge to other sales people.

Meanwhile, the company’s purchasing manager retired on short notice, and the CEO saw that as an opportunity to bring a more skilled person into this role. When it comes to transferring and retaining knowledge critical for future performance, you must be clear about which employees pose a risk and which present an opportunity to upgrade your talent.

3. Are you making the right assumptions about how much time you have to deal with the risks of knowledge loss?
Executives consistently underestimate the time they have before facing these problems. Many leaders don’t see a link between their aging workforce with the problem of serious skills gaps.

One of the hardest things to deal with is unplanned retirements of employees you’re counting on to stay longer. As an employer you have a right to do succession and workforce planning. That means you can ask valued employees to keep you informed about their retirement plans, but these conversations must be handled extremely carefully to avoid any suggestions of age discrimination.  It is important to get advice from an attorney or HR expert before broaching the subject of retirement because you need to know what to do and what not to say. But if handled appropriately you will greatly reduce the risks of being blind-sided by an unexpected and costly departure.

4. Can you recruit, develop and RETAIN the Millennials needed to replace retiring workers?
One reason that an aging workforce is so problematic for many companies is that leaders have learned how difficult it is to develop and retain a new generation of highly skilled employees. The needs, values and behavior of the generation entering the workforce are a consistent source of frustration for many managers. Different priorities, work styles, and ways of learning clash with what many Baby Boomers expect.

But, as frustrating as these differences are, you have no choice! Aging Boomers are going to retire – or die – eventually. And every organization that expects to survive, much less grow, is going to have to figure out how to prosper with a Millennial workforce. Organizations that find a way to engage and retain productive younger workers fastest are going to be much more successful in negotiating the great wave of Boomer retirements. If you ignore this problem, your organization is much more at risk of losing critical capabilities as more Boomers retire.

What do you think? Do you have essential knowledge at risk in your organization? What questions are you asking to determine where your greatest risks are? I’d welcome your comments.

note: Dr. DeLong is the author of the book “Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce”.

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