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The Good News About Elder Care Benefits at Work

A new survey finds they're more prevalent, but small employers lag


New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s new memoir about caring for her aging parents includes a drawing of her sitting on a couch between them. The caption, with an arrow pointing to Chast’s head, says: “You Are Here: Suck It Up.”

Today’s reality is that many Americans care for aging family members — more than two in five of us, according to our research at the Families and Work Institute. And it’s a reality that employers are beginning to pay attention to — with a growing number now providing help for employees who feel that they just have to “suck it up” in managing this care and their careers.

More Employers Offering Elder Care Help

Families and Work Institute’s recently-released 2014 National Study of Employers  — funded by the Society for Human Resource Management — found that more employers are offering several forms of elder care supports than in the past, but smaller employers lag behind their larger counterparts.

(MORE: How to Care for Your Parent Without Losing Your Job)

Among the findings from the survey of 1,051 for-profit and nonprofit employers, which looked at changes in the workplace since 2008:

  • 43 percent of employers report they offer Elder Care Resource and Referral (help in finding resources and information about elder care), up from 31 percent in 2008.
  • Far more employers now offer Dependent Care Assistance Plans for elder care (the ability to set aside money from each paycheck before taxes to pay for elder care expenses) than in 2008. Currently, 41 percent do; in 2008, 23 percent did.
  • Just 7 percent of employers offer access to respite care — short-term care given to a family member by another caregiver so the primary caregiver can rest or take time off. Only 3 percent did in 2008.

Why Elder Care Benefits Are More Prevalent

Employers are increasing their focus on elder care, in part, because of an aging U.S. population, where more older employees are caring for someone of their own generation, such as a spouse or sibling, and younger employees are more likely to be caring for an elder, such as a parent.

In addition, organizational leadership tends to be older, so these managers are more likely to be currently encountering elder care issues.  By contrast, many organizational decision makers faced child care issues as they launched their careers and were less likely to be in a position to turn their first-hand insights into organizational policy at that time.

(MORE: Caring for Your Aging Parent)

Large Vs. Small Employers

The 2014 National Study of Employers also found that larger organizations are far more likely to offer elder care resource and referral than smaller ones. While 64 percent of employers with 1,000 or more employees now provide such services, only 37 percent of employers with 50 to 99 employees do.

This difference may be a result of the larger employers having Employee Assistance Programs or other outside vendors to staff these services; having more HR or other staff to distribute such information to their employees or both.

Large employers were more likely to offer Dependent Care Assistance Plans (53 percent do) than small ones (38 percent do).

When looking at employers across the board, the only form of elder care support that did not increase between 2008 and 2014 is the provision of time off, which was already high. In 2008 and again in 2014, 75 percent of employers reported they give time off for employees to provide elder care without jeopardizing their jobs — and there was no difference between small and large employers.

Declines In Other Work/Family Perks

The National Study of Employers also found declines since 2008 in the percentage of employers offering various types of provisions allowing extended time away from work. While 29 percent of employers offered job sharing in 2008, now 18 percent do and 52 percent permit career breaks for personal and family responsibilities, down from 64 percent.

However, the study found that flexibility over when and where full-time employees work is on the rise. This includes options such as working remotely occasionally (telecommuting), which saw an increase from 50 percent in 2008 to 67 percent today.

How to Get Elder Care Benefits

If your employer does not offer elder care benefits and you wish it did, ask whether this is something it would consider. Start a dialogue with your employer to identify the needs and possible options.

Encourage other employees with similar needs to ask for elder care support and present your case as a workforce productivity and individual issue. There are practical and emotional reasons for elder care support and the best negotiating strategy will employ both.

Remember that your goal is to help your elder, not to get a particular form of flexibility. The Workflex Employee Toolkit, on the WhenWorkWorks.org site of the Families and Work Institute and Society for Human Resource Management, has a host of tips on how to identify and lobby for the flexibility you need.

Also, look into your local Area Agency on Aging to find a range of elder care resources available in your community.

While some of the elder care trends in the 2014 National Study of Employers are favorable, it’s clear that the Roz Chast family caregivers who feel they have to suck it up are not a thing of the past.

Providing elder care can be both challenging and rewarding, as both of us know from personal experience and from our research, and there is a lot more that needs to be done to deal more effectively with an aging society.

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