4 Ways Employers Can Help Support Employees Caring For Aging Parents
We’re used to hearing how employers should support employees with children, and for good reason – raising a family whilst juggling a career is no mean feat. However, we’re less used to discussing an equally pressing issue: how employers can support employees with ageing parents. One recent report placed the number of employees caring for aging family members at one in six, while others sources have estimated that the true number may be much higher. Some members of this group have been termed ‘the sandwich generation’, as they find themselves not only dealing with the pressures of supporting children living at home for longer, but also with providing care and support to elderly family members. As the quality of healthcare extends lives whilst the cost of social care increases, this is set to become an even more pressing issue in the years to come.
This balancing act doesn’t just impact workers, but also employers. Team members that are burnt out and stressed from caregiving are naturally unable to perform at their best, which can ultimately affect performance, productivity, and retention. With this in mind, let’s take a look at four ways employers can help team members to manage the caregiving of elderly parents whilst still excelling in their careers.
1. Cut out ‘hustle culture’
In some sectors, it remains a sad fact that ‘rise and grind’ culture still reigns supreme. This means that working above and beyond the 48-hour weekly limit is viewed as a badge of honour, rather than an unsustainable practice likely to lead to burnout and impact mental health. Not only can this breed a toxic sense of competition amongst employees, it also unfairly penalises those with the responsibility of caring for children or elderly parents, such as people like 62-year-old Anna from West London. She told us, “The culture at my last job was such that we all felt compelled to work 80 hours per week, or we’d be replaced. At the time, my mother was suffering from dementia, and I simply couldn’t be around to provide the care she needed in her final days. I asked to reduce the amount of hours I was working, and was told that if I did, I wouldn’t be able to do my job properly. Ultimately, I was forced to retire early.” Anna’s experience aptly demonstrates the intense stress that high-pressure working environments can induce, along with the potential cost. It’s therefore down to employers to do all they can to discourage hustle culture within their organisation by discouraging employees from working on evenings and weekends, and creating stricter boundaries by keeping work-related communication to office hours only.
2. Encourage flexible and hybrid working
Providing employees with the flexibility to complete their working hours within an extended timeframe can be incredibly beneficial for team members with caring responsibilities. For example, if someone needs to attend a hospital appointment with their relative at 2pm, they would be able to start work early to make up the time and still perform all their duties by the end of the day. In fact, a 2021 study revealed that flexible working can be the key to increased employee productivity, and can even lead to a happier and more engaged workforce. Establishing hybrid working practices should form a key component of any organisation’s flexible working strategy, as this enables team members to benefit from reduced commuting and increase the amount of quality time spent at home with family. 63-year-old Stuart who works in engineering told us, “I’ve been caring for my elderly parents for around 10 years now, both of whom are in poor health. When my company introduced hybrid working, it took so much of the strain away from me. I’m able to stay at my parents’ house during the day if I need to, attend GP appointments with them, and just be there if they need emotional support. My manager has also noticed that my performance is better than ever, as I’m not constantly worrying that I’ll miss an important phone call or medical emergency.”
3. Check company policies and offerings
Current research indicates that fewer than one in ten employers offer any form of eldercare support policies, despite the huge numbers of elderly people living longer with advanced care needs having been dubbed a ‘national crisis.’ However, introducing eldercare as an employee benefit is relatively straightforward. For example, organisations can provide workers with access to helplines and specialists who are fully equipped to advise on the needs of elderly relatives, from talking through accessing additional care at home, to discussing the stressful possibility that parents can no longer cope independently. In addition, employers might consider providing paid time off for caregiving, and access to counselling services that can help employees deal with the mental and emotional impact of caregiving. It’s also important that organisations cultivate a culture in which employees feel comfortable coming forward if they’re struggling to juggle caring responsibilities with working, so that a solution can be reached. As Stuart revealed, “I was really anxious about opening up to my boss about my caregiving duties, as I was afraid it would be viewed as a weakness on my part, or that I would be passed over for opportunities. Thankfully, he was very understanding, and helped me open up a line of communication with HR so that my needs can be accommodated accordingly.”
4. Establish employee support groups
If an organisation employs 200 people or more, chances are, they have enough employees with caring responsibilities to establish a worthwhile support group. This doesn’t need to be limited to team members caring for elderly parents, and could also include employees taking care of children with additional needs, for example. This can be an invaluable source of emotional support, as well as a place that employees can swap tips and knowledge. Support groups such as these can also act as a focus group for HR departments to formulate additional support policies, and are a fantastic way for organisations to demonstrate that they care about the challenges employees with caregiving responsibilities are facing. Stuart explained, “Just having other people to talk to who are facing similar challenges can make a huge difference. You feel as though you aren’t so alone, and it gives you the strength you need to cope.”
The demographics of the UK are rapidly shifting. Thanks to advances in science and healthcare, people are living longer than ever before, and older people now make up a growing proportion of the population. Whilst this means many of us will be able to enjoy increased quality time with our loved ones, it also means that many people of working age will be forced to juggle the responsibilities of caregiving with a productive and fulfilling career. The onus is now on employers to create a sustainable working landscape in which both are possible.
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