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Caregivers in the work force: Trends, challenges and solutions

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The term "caregiver" refers to anyone who provides assistance to someone else who is in some degree incapacitated and needs help. "Informal caregiver" and "family caregiver" are terms that refer to unpaid individuals such as family members, friends and neighbors who provide care to others. Although there is some latitude in caregiver statistics depending on which study one refers to, we can garner some fairly specific numbers and trends as follows:

* Eighty percent of all the care received by older adults is provided by family and friends. (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services -- CMS)

* Nearly one out of every four households is involved in caregiving to persons aged 50 or over. (Family Caregiver Alliance -- FCA)

* Just over half of all caregivers for persons aged 50-plus are employed full time and almost two-thirds are employed either full or part time. (FCA)

* Among working caregivers caring for a family or friend aged 65-plus, two-thirds report having to rearrange their work schedule, decrease their hours or take an unpaid leave in order to meet their caregiving responsibilities. (FCA)

* Research conducted in the early 1990s found that working caregivers can cost employers money as a result of lost work time, lower productivity and replacement costs for workers who leave the workplace to provide care. (FCA)

* The cost of informal caregiving in terms of lost productivity to U.S. businesses is estimated at between $11.4 to $29 billion annually. (CMS)

* As many as 10 percent to 31 percent of working caregivers leave their jobs as a result of caregiving responsibilities. (FCA)

* About one-half of primary caregivers provide care with no outside assistance whatsoever. (FCA)

The trend of employees also serving as caregivers to adults with long-term care needs is increasing due to a variety of reasons, including growth of the older population, smaller family size (resulting in fewer adults to share caregiving responsibilities) and an increase in two-earner households. (CMS) Some employers have implemented workplace programs for their caregiving employees, while others have not yet taken on this important issue. Studies conducted by the General Accounting Office in 1994 found that employers who established programs to assist their caregiving employees did so for the following reasons (FCA):

* To enhance worker recruitment and retention

* To improve morale among workers

* Personal experiences of managers and supervisors

* Interest in being a family friendly company

* Research about caregiving and demographics

* One study involving working caregivers found that their needs include flexibility in work schedules, information about services and aging in general, support from co-workers and supervisors, and help in making decisions about care options and related issues. (Neal & Wagner 2001) Unfortunately, employees are too often unaware of available help at work when it is needed and unfamiliar with community-based services and programs available to assist them.

With the trend of working caregivers increasing and the resulting impact on the workplace, businesses of all sizes should be thinking about developing workplace programs for caregivers.

Larger organizations can choose to include eldercare policies in their overall existing benefits package. Such organizations might choose to provide supportive benefits such as dependent life insurance, long-term care insurance, flexible spending accounts/dependent care accounts, cash subsidies for services for older relatives, group legal/financial plans, hospice inclusion in company sponsored health insurance and access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) for counseling and support.

Smaller organizations (and larger organizations too) with less ability to provide flexible and multiple employee benefit options can still provide assistance to their caregiving employees. An important step is to simply have information about community groups and caregiver organizations such as Southern Caregiver Resource Center available to employees so that when they need help they will know where to turn.

Southern Caregiver Resource Center not only offers a variety of support services to caregivers, but also has a multitude of helpful information available including a "caregiver library" and staff with extensive knowledge of available community resources.

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