It’s becoming a common theme at the workplace:
One worker takes the day off to take her 90-year-old dad to his medical appointment.
Another spends his lunch break calling Medicare to discuss a billing discrepancy in his mom’s claim.
And yet another leaves at 5 p.m. sharp for her second full-time job: caring for her aging mother.
Caregiving is here to stay. And corporate America is not ready.
Employers face a workforce in its prime caregiving years. Today, seven out of 10 caregivers work full- or part-time and represent more than 15% of the U.S. labor force. Economic hard times have pushed the average retirement age from 57 in the ’90s to 61 and rising, according to a Gallup poll.
And it isn’t just a boomer issue. Pew Research reported 42% of Gen Xers are sandwich generation caregivers — caring for children still at home and aging parents simultaneously. That’s a higher percentage than their boomer counterparts (33%).
We are at the tipping point where employees are more concerned about elder care than child care.
It was just that the caregiving his wife was doing was completely invisible to this executive.
A challenge for working caregivers and their employers is that caring for an older parent or ill spouse is not a joyful event. Workers don’t show up with smiles and cute stories as they did when they were raising toddlers or had just become a grandparent.
Another challenge is that many employees, concerned about job security, fear identifying themselves as caregivers. A report by the National Alliance for Caregiving found 50% of working caregivers are reluctant to tell their supervisor about their caregiving responsibilities.
A Caring.com survey found three-fourths of caregivers for those with dementia told their co-workers of their role and responsibilities. That’s more than the number who told extended family, but less than the number who told their boss (66%).
While some caregivers fear stigma, others don’t think of themselves as caregivers, with that role and label. They feel they are just being a “good son or daughter.”
Not knowing about their workers’ responsibilities creates a dilemma for employers. Some report caregiving resources and services available to employees go underutilized, causing HR departments to feel there is no need to keep them. In reality, there is a growing need. But both parties need to turn up the volume in communicating with each other.
One solution is getting employers to see the totality of their employees lives, including their role as caregivers.
When I interviewed Eric Dishman, Intel fellow and general manager of the Intel Health Strategy and Solutions Group, for my new book, he shared this story.
“Years ago, I presented a proposal [at Intel] for new technology products to help caregivers,” Dishman says. “After the presentation, the lead executive told me he didn’t think anyone would really need or buy these types of products.”
Dishman asked the executive to call his wife, and much to his surprise, he did. Dishman then took the phone and spoke with her for several minutes before handing it back to the executive.
The wife told her husband this was the first time in his 25 years at Intel that he would actually be developing products that could help her. She was caregiving for her mother-in-law at the time.
“This is an illustrative story to show it’s not malice. It was just that the caregiving his wife was doing was completely invisible to this executive,” says Dishman. “He was at work all day and didn’t see that she was at work all day, too, with a caregiving job.”
Dishman says the executive realized if his wife was going through this, maybe millions of other Americans and some of his employees were, too. (By the way, Dishman got his funding, and Intel continues to be a leader in caregiving technology and supporting its caregiving employee workforce.)