One third of Americans under 40 have spent time caring for an older relative or friend, while another third expect to do so in the next few years, a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds. Furthermore, the burden of caregiving appears to be causing these younger adults more stress than their older peers:
These younger caregivers, age 18‑39, differ from caregivers age 40 and older in several ways. Younger caregivers spend fewer hours providing care compared to caregivers age 40 and older, who are more than twice as likely to spend 10 or more hours a week providing unpaid care (26 percent vs. 63 percent). Although they spend less time providing care, younger caregivers are more likely to report being at least moderately stressed by caregiving (80 percent) than are caregivers age 40 and older (67 percent). While caregivers age 40 and older are disproportionately female compared to the overall population (59 percent female vs. 41 percent male), this is not true of younger caregivers, who are just as likely to be male (48 percent female vs. 52 percent male).
Most caregivers say they are getting the support they need in their elder care obligations, with young adults saying they mostly rely on family for this support and often use social media to solicit the help they need. Younger prospective caregivers, not surprisingly, are more likely than their over-40 counterparts to say they feel unprepared to take on the role, but most say they expect to share these responsibilities with someone else.
The AP-NORC survey also found that most young American adults have little confidence that government safety-net programs will be there for them in their old age: only around 10 percent expect Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid to provide benefits at that time comparable to or better than they offer today. Younger Americans are also unsure of whether they will be financially prepared to their own elder care needs in retirement, with only 16 percent saying they were very confident that they would have the resources to meet those needs.
In countries with aging populations, many working-age people are saddled with the burden of caring for elderly parents or other relatives, putting pressure on their employers to help ease that burden. While organizations are becoming more aware of how elder care responsibilities affect their employees and are looking at new ways to help employees cope, Starbucks is breaking new ground in this area with a generous new benefit for its employees in China: health insurance for their parents. Bloomberg reports:
The new policy is a response to traditional values in China, the company said, as children often care for their parents and grandparents in a society that doesn’t have a comprehensive safety net for the elderly. The plan, covering 30 critical illnesses and some surgeries, will be available starting in June, Executive Chairman Howard Schultz said.
“This is the first time we’ve done anything like this, and the reason for that is that it was clear there was an emotionally driven concern among partners about their ability to take care of their parents,” Schultz said in an interview in Beijing. “I heard firsthand very emotionally driven, tragic stories about what’s taking place with the parents who got sick, and many passed away.”
As the Baby Boomers age into their golden years, their adult children are taking on an increasing burden of caring for their elderly relatives. In the UK, NHS advisor Paul Gaudin writes at the CIPD, this burden is becoming heavier as state-funded elder care has become less generous. As we know, caring for a senior citizen can be very challenging, and trying to juggle these responsibilities along with a full-time job puts a strain on employees’ mental and physical health. This situation, Gaudin says, puts the onus on British employers to do more to support the growing number of workers who shoulder caregiving responsibilities, as only 9 percent currently include such support in their rewards packages:
There are practical ways that employers can help the ‘squeezed middle’ who are increasingly faced with the challenge of suddenly becoming carers, paired with a bewildering world of worry and frustration in trying to understand how it’s possible to work with such a disconnected model. For many, the answer is to rush to organise a place at a residential care home, which, given the cuts, now costs an average of £30,000 a year. Despite the severity of the issues and potential impact on employees, there is a hole in terms of benefits offerings. Research from think tank IPPR has found that only 9 per cent of employers offer anything around eldercare in their rewards packages.
There’s also a need for specialist financial support and advice on planning – advice that is personal, specific and face-to-face. One basic option is to offer subsidised health insurance for older family members, although this type of insurance can be prohibitively expensive. Telehealth – providing video access to healthcare professionals and health data – is being seen by employers as one way of cutting absence and the time taken by employees over hospital and other routine appointments. But it’s also a useful time-saving approach for staff who don’t have time to sit in traffic and waiting rooms. Employers can help simply by promoting the option, and providing the required IT, as well as a ‘telehealth space’ for private conversations.
Deloitte made waves last month with its new family leave policy, which gives all employees up to 16 weeks of paid leave for any kind of caregiving, whether for a new baby, a sick family member, or an elderly parent. Few organizations offer paid leave for elder care, Rebecca Greenfield notes at Bloomberg, but with so many millennial employees facing caregiving obligations toward their aging baby boomer parents, the pressure is increasing on employers to accommodate those workers’ circumstances. Fortunately, she adds, the business case for caregiving leave looks pretty solid:
As baby boomers age out of the workplace, their millennial children, who now make up the largest share of the labor force, will have to care for them. Much like raising a newborn, taking care of a sick or dying relative takes a great deal of time and emotional energy. If a parent has an unexpected terminal illness, for example, a child might need to (or want to) take a significant amount of time off to care for him or her and say goodbye. …
Even if most young workers haven’t experienced these crises yet, they know they will be grappling with them, and most can’t afford to jump in unpaid. A Deloitte survey found that 88 percent of respondents are for expanding leave policies to include care beyond maternity and paternity leave. For companies, offering paid elder care is not only a hiring and retention play but potentially a productivity booster. It’s tough to balance working with caring for—or just worrying about—a sick loved one. One study by MetLife estimated that U.S. businesses are hit with $17.1 billion in annual productivity losses from full-time employees doing intense caregiving for family members.
It’s encouraging to see more attention being paid to the challenges working caregivers face. A study last year found that people juggling work and elder care are often forced to cut back their hours, while their mental and physical health suffers. This is also interesting to look at from the perspective of diversity and inclusion, as most of the people who take time off for elder care are mid-career women. As the Atlantic’s Liz O’Donnell pointed out earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau counts 44 million unpaid elder care providers in the United States, the majority of them female:
Deloitte's Offices in Stamford, CT (Ritu Manoj Jethani/Shutterstock.com)
Deloitte has announced that they will offer its employees 16 weeks of paid family leave for caregiving, a plan which the company calls “the first of its kind” among professional services firms. The expanded benefit, which is available starting this month, applies to both women and men and will include not only parental leave, but also caregiving for sick or elderly family members. In addition, birth mothers, if combining both maternity leave and short term disability, will now be eligible for up to six months of paid leave after having a child. Previously, Deloitte employees who were primary caregivers were eligible for eight weeks of paid leave, while non-primary caregivers were eligible for three weeks.
Speaking with Fortune’s Valentina Zarya, Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert said the move was focused on improving the overall well-being of their employees, as the firm wants to be known as a talent innovator. The Wall Street Journal‘s Rachel Emma Silverman adds: