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Labor Day Special: Working Caregivers Are Having a Tough Time of It

This Labor Day, more workers in the U.S. than ever before are juggling two jobs—their paid work, and caring for a disabled spouse, their parents, or other older loved ones. Did we say two jobs? Make that three! According to new research from Baylor University, “A big and overwhelming consequence of America’s aging population is that so-called sandwiched caregivers, typically middle-aged, are caring for ailing parents while trying to work full-time and raise their own children.”

The Baylor researchers estimate that 25% of employed adults in the U.S. are providing care for an elderly loved one—and some are caring for two or three elders. Here are some other statistics from the report:

  • Nearly 75% of these workers experience frequent work interruptions, and 50% of the interruptions are “severe”—especially among those whose loved ones have Alzheimer’s disease or other memory loss.
  • More than 40% of the caregiving employees spend at least 10 hours per week caring for their loved ones.
  • 70% report that their loved ones have chronic health conditions; 80% have physical limitations.

Caregivers aren’t the only ones who are affected by this growing squeeze

“U.S. firms are facing a caregiving crisis and refuse to acknowledge it,” said a recent report from Harvard Business School. “They are oblivious to the growing costs of the care economy and that is hurting them and their employees.”

Caregiving employees may be distracted and less productive. And many leave their jobs entirely to care for senior relatives. These are often at the top level of the company—those with more seniority, in whom the company has handsomely invested. Losing them means losing all their considerable knowledge and experience.

The researchers advise employers to “view the issue of caregiving through a lens of talent management, rather than as another potential expensive benefit,” and to demonstrate commitment by both understanding the needs of caregiver employees and offering guidance and employee support resources. This might include the availability of flex time, telecommuting, job sharing, and caregiver assistance and referral programs. Some companies even offer a certain number of hours of backup caregiving.

Caregivers should consider their own financial health

Beyond cutting back on their work hours or quitting their jobs entirely, many working caregivers also dip into their own retirement accounts to pay for their loved ones’ care. This can set caregivers up for financial hardship for the rest of their lives. Their retirement savings may be permanently affected, they may never again manage to get back to their previous employment track, and their Social Security benefit will be smaller. Studies show the burden of their double roll can also take a toll on their physical health.

If you are in this situation, here are some important conversations you should have before making decisions about your paid employment:

Talk to your employer. Employees should discuss their situation with their supervisor or HR department. You might not want to share your “personal business,” but remember it’s better that your boss knows what’s behind any caregiver-related tardiness or absences. And you may be pleasantly surprised! The Baylor University researchers found that many companies who employed the working caregivers in their study actually offered caregiver support resources—but the employees didn’t know about it.

Talk to other family members. Prepare a list of tasks you’ve been doing for your loved one, the amount of money you spend, and the time you take off work. Other family members may be able to take on more of the caregiving load, or help pay for home care, an adult day center or other support services.

Talk to your loved one. This should begin with a candid conversation about their financial situation. Would they be able to pay for care services? Is their home still a good fit, or would a move to an assisted living or other senior support community be better? If your loved one is able to have the conversation, it’s important for you to explain how your work is affected.

Consult professionals. The eldercare system is complex! Many services may be available for your family, but first you have to find them. Talk to a geriatric care manager (also known as an aging life care professional), an elder law attorney, a financial advisor and your local senior support agency. And remember, if your company has a caregiver assistance and referral program, that can be a great place to start.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from Baylor University and the Harvard School of Business.

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