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.

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“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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Disrupting the Workplace: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

Posted Monday, November 9th, 2015| Comments (2) rule
Faculty Sponsor, Center on Aging & Work, Boston College
Professor, Graduate School of Social Work & Caroll School of Management, Boston College

We live in an age of innovation. From travel to technology, financing to food, every industry is driven by a sense that rethinking and reinventing is the key to success. Yet when it comes to the way we work, so many of us are stuck in old patterns that have barely changed in decades. Most of us go to workplaces that look very much like they did decades ago; we work Monday to Friday (well, okay, often on Saturday and Sunday as well) on the same 9-5 schedules that our parents did; and (with the exception of the use of new technologies) we complete many work tasks using the same steps we always have.

It is time to disrupt the workplace. We can ignite positive disruption by asking a simple question: If you could walk in to work tomorrow and change one thing that would make your workplace better, what would it be? This is the question posed by OpenWork, a new online platform built so that employees at all levels of the organization can share the stories of what happens when employees and employers collaborate to reinvent how work is done. I’m proud to be among those who are introducing OpenWork.

The term “disruptive” often has negative connotations. However, ever since Clay Christensen introduced the language of “disruptive technologies,” leaders in the business world have begun to think about some of the positive consequences of disruption, particularly when change and innovation introduce transformative solutions. I like to place the aging of the workforce into the context of disruptive demographics. With baby boomers now making up the largest percentage of the workforce, and given that many people are choosing to work later into life than ever before, these changing demographics have already disrupted the workplace. Companies that see this opportunity and utilize these new demographics to their advantage will have a leg up on their competitors moving forward. In order to do that, companies, executives, managers and employees will all have to think about designing work a bit differently.

Not that long ago, there were two primary responses to the aging of the workforce: promote early retirement, or develop technologies that help older workers compensate for physical decline. Both of these approaches still have some relevancy, but neither recognize what a mountain of research has shown: not only can older workers offer concrete benefits to employers, but there are distinct bottom-line advantages for those workplaces that adapt appropriately to suit the needs of a multigenerational workforce. Many employers have already realized that rather than try to get older workers to retire, they need to figure out how to keep them on board.

A lot of people are scared off from conversations like this because they assume that in order to accommodate a changing workforce they are going to need to change everything. But sometimes just slight shifts in thinking or operations can make huge differences. For example, a lot of companies have leadership development programs, and many HR people will admit these are mostly used for younger employees. They rarely consider someone late in their career for reasons that seem intuitive: Why spend resources on someone who is going to retire soon? Yet statistically speaking, older workers are actually more likely to stay with a company for longer, so when you break it down, putting someone in their 50s or 60s on a leadership track may pay more dividends than focusing only on younger workers. I’ve seen companies make this kind of small change—not instituting a new program, but realizing that an existing program can be well-suited to diverse, unexpected employees—and quickly reap the benefits.

Recently at the Center on Aging & Work’s Innovation Lab, one company exploring ways to engage their multigenerational workforce came up with the idea of an employee internship program, where people worried about aging out of certain departments—say, grounds and buildings— could learn new competencies, such as financial skills, that might allow them to remain in the workforce longer or possibly transition to self-employment. Again, this is an inexpensive and resource-light approach that has the potential to keep valuable, trusted and experienced employees on the job for longer than expected.

There can be benefits for employers to view disruptive demographics not as a downside, but as an opportunity to innovate. Many companies are taking similar steps to attract millenials, working parents, and others as the talent war escalates once again. That’s what OpenWork is all about: Small changes that make a big difference, disrupting the way we work and shattering the poverty of imagination that holds all of us back.

At OpenWork.org we’ve compiled the stories of 12 businesses that have each innovated to ensure their workplaces make sense for employees and managers alike. Each of these businesses has made small changes that resulted in big dividends. As demographics continue to disrupt the workplace, I believe the only way for companies to succeed moving forward it to embrace these changes and adapt existing approaches in order to make the most of them. For more stories of companies that have made small changes with big impacts, follow OpenWork on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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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| Comment (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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What does the future hold for “emerging” retirees?

Posted Wednesday, August 5th, 2015| Comments (2) rule

Jacquelyn B. James, PhD
Co-director, Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

Jeremiah Morelock
Research Assistant, Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

As a society, we are just starting to grapple with the wide-reaching implications of population aging and its effect on working lives. Many reports and surveys have described the changing expectations about work and retirement for the Baby Boom generation. (See for example, recent reports from SHRM, AARP, and Careerbuilder). There is still work to be done on the part of researchers, employers, and individuals to adapt to changing ideas about work for this generation, the largest in history. That said, the context of work and retirement continues to change rapidly, and future generations may face even stiffer challenges. For the sake of conversation, let’s call these future older adults “emerging” retirees, building on the idea of emerging adulthood.

Older adults of tomorrow — the “emerging” retirees — will face financial pressures unseen by previous generations of retirees: changes in eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits, a slower-growing economy, increasing healthcare costs, and changes in the availability and design of employer-sponsored retirement benefits (see surveys by MetLife and Transamerica).  The employer/employee relationship may also be changing — we read about the “uberization” of the economy, the “gig” economy, and precarious jobs. There is even discussion of a “no-growth” economy. With these kinds of pressures and instabilities, the expectation of a secure retirement is becoming increasingly unrealistic for many people.

Older Baby Boomers and the generation that preceded them seem to have done better than did cohorts of retirees that came before them. As such, they appear to be just ahead of being seriously affected by the aforementioned trends, at least in terms of financial resources and planning. A recent New York Times article described how well these cohorts are doing. Younger Baby Boomers, however, are not faring as well, and things are even less promising for the ones just behind them, Generation X.

Furthermore, the Great Recession affected Gen Xers at the point that would typically be considered, or at least hoped, to be the highpoint of their careers. While Gen Xers were hit by the recession when they would have hoped to be doing their best, Millennials were hit right as their careers were starting. Added to this hitch in the path to later life, Gen Xers and Millenials, more so than preceding generations, have had to borrow uncommon sums of money to acquire their education. They have also been more likely to have intermittent employment spells making it difficult for them to save in preparation for retirement. Today, job security is disappearing, higher education is becoming a necessity, and student loan debt strains even good incomes.

Available research on these trends, however, can be contradictory. For instance, Transamerica reports increased optimism about retirement from all cohorts in recent years, while according to the National Institute on Retirement Security 86% of Americans in 2015 believe that we are in a retirement crisis. Clearly these trends reflect very important and complex issues that warrant increased attention and more research.

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that, moving forward, retirement in the future simply will not look like it does for today’s cohort of retirees, which is complicated enough. Increased longevity means that, even without financial hardships and career setbacks, typical retirement plans will be insufficient for a growing number of people.

We believe that action needs to be to taken now to avoid a crisis for emerging retirees. What do you think?  We welcome your ideas about action steps in terms of research, policy, and/or advocacy.

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Building a Meaningful Activity Portfolio in Later Life

Posted Thursday, July 2nd, 2015| Comment (1) 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
Email: matzch@bc.edu

In diversifying our activities (taking on a part-time job, volunteering, helping to solve a community issue) we increase the likelihood for engaging in positive lifestyle behaviors. Research suggests that it is important not only to engage the body through continued physical activity, movement and strength building, but also to continue to engage the mind by challenging yourself intellectually, and to engage the heart and soul by connecting through relationships, place, and purpose. We also know that the quality of engagement matters just as much or more than the participation itself—so, doing things to enrich your experience is important.

If somewhere in our development we were taught the importance and value of activity portfolio diversification—the act of seeking out multiple opportunities for engagement in community roles and social roles that are interest/passion-driven but that also engage us physically, cognitively and socially—we would find that we can live healthier and happier lives. Indeed, such a rich portfolio can afford us some protection in the face of age-related social role losses. For example, there is evidence that those who have volunteer roles in their lives and then experience a spousal loss or who acquire a volunteer role after spousal loss have fewer depressive symptoms than widows who did not volunteer (Brown et al., 2004; Li, 2007).

What can people do to diversify their activity portfolios?

  • Plan for the psychological and social aspects of retirement by thinking ahead about the transition, the development of identity, finding meaningful activities, options for generativity, etc., with the same vigor dedicated to planning financially for retirement (e.g., AARP’s Life Reimagined).
  • Develop a strategic plan with a mission, vision and goals for your life. Identify strengths and interests, building on those to develop a strong activity portfolio. Reach out to local organizations that can help you to achieve these goals and leverage existing resources.
  • “Job-craft”—advocate for yourself in the workplace, identify and follow your strengths, network.
  • Develop your skills across the life course, become a lifelong learner, actively seek-out training and learning opportunities

What can employers do to help their employees plan for the non-financial aspects of retirement?

So, what’s in YOUR activity portfolio? Did anyone ever tell you to plan for the non-financial aspects of retirement? How do you currently organize/structure your days? Is it purposeful? Does it support the continued engagement of body, mind, heart and spirit?