We must plan for caregiving instead of waiting for the medical crisis. Lack of planning is sadly the typical scenario for the vast majority of working families with aging relatives. Too many barriers exist when it comes to planning for caregiving. Such barriers include lack of knowledge, time, and procrastination. Ultimately, lack of preparation inevitably results in premature exit from the workforce. This is a costly scenario for the employee as well as the employer.
As part of a comprehensive benefits plan, employers can help educate future caregiver employees as to how to initiate the conversation and set up planning. Such a setup may vastly change the landscape around employees’ ability to remain in the workplace as they take on a caregiving role. The point of this article, therefore, is a wake-up call to the employer as well as the future caregiver employee.
Preparation for Caregiving
It is wonderful to think that people today have a good chance of living well beyond their 70s. However, with rising age comes increasing disabilities (1), and thus, the need for supportive care. In my profession as an eldercare consultant, I have come to realize that the vast majority of people take on caregiving responsibilities with little or no preparation; this is indeed the typical scenario for caregivers (2).
Unfortunately, it is human nature to wait till the last moment before we take action, especially with issues that are difficult to solve. In the caregiving world, people often do not learn about the many resources and services available until after the medical crisis occurs. Why do we procrastinate when it comes to planning for caregiving? There are many reasons: lack of time in our busy working lives, lack of knowledge, lack of confidence, and stressful family dynamics. However, lack of preparation around caregiving can lead to wide-ranging negative outcomes for the caregiver (3\4).
Planning for the Future of Caregiving
We plan our financial future; so why don’t we plan for caregiving? This should be a no-brainer, as lack of preparation can have a negative impact on so many aspects of our lives including deteriorating mental and physical health, loss of social connections, and reduced or lost income. For example, caregivers are more likely to experience stress, anxiety, irritability, hopelessness, and depression, as well as have coexisting substance abuse or dependence, and chronic disease (5/6). Furthermore, studies have shown that caregivers (age 50+) who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose, on average, nearly $304,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime, and are at increased risk of living in poverty in their own old age (7).
Programmatic Solutions in the Workplace
The rationale for why we should plan for caregiving is clear. Yet, we don’t. I would argue that much of the fault lies in that structurally our society is not set up to support proactive caregiving. A key area where programmatic solutions could be developed exists within the workplace. The workplace employs many people who fall into the sandwich generation; that is, those sandwiched between children and aging parents. Even though many mid-size to larger companies provide eldercare services as part of their Employment Assistance Programs (EAPs), these do not promote proactive planning for caregiving.
EAPs cater to the employee who is in crisis mode. Instead, workplaces should do more to promote proactive planning for caregiving when the employee is not under duress. This could be done through educational ‘lunch and learns’ provided to employees where they may gain knowledge about warning signs of when it is time to step in, learn ways to initiate the conversation, and how to find resources in their community. Educating the sandwich generation workforce is a win-win scenario for the employee as well as the employer by diminishing disruption in the workplace because employees will be much more prepared for caregiving.
The workplace captures a huge audience of future caregivers. This is a vital consideration as we are facing a looming shortage of caregivers as the large baby boomer cohort ages (8). We must start to implement structural changes within our society that can support caregiving in the same way that daycare was implemented to support working mothers! The programmatic solutions described in this article are relatively inexpensive and empower the family to make decisions that may better meet the wishes and needs of the care recipient. Ultimately, by planning for caregiving we may better promote the autonomy and the dignity of our loved ones.