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A New Era: Companies Supporting Caregivers

For Sandwich Generation employees, help may be on the horizon

By Sherri Snelling

I recently spoke at a Boomer Summit conference about caregiving in the workplace. I started by showing the logo from Mad Men — Don Draper in silhouette, cigarette smoldering — with the headline: “The end of an era.”
The AMC drama wrapping up soon is based on life in the '60s and '70s. Since that era, the needs and lifestyles of the American worker have evolved, and employers have responded with some benefits and services to support employees. For instance, women now make up about 50 percent of the workforce. When they entered it in in record numbers in the '70s and '80s, more employment-based or sponsored child care services appeared.
Today, workplace issues include not only child care but also elder care. Currently, 15 percent of the U.S. workforce works a “second shift,” caring for an older loved one. By 2020, one in five workers will be over the age of 50 and joining the Sandwich Generation, managing the needs of emerging adult children and elderly parents at once.
(MORE: Caregiving is a Corporate Issue)
Luckily, it seems many companies are ready for the dawn of this new era. They’re putting supports in place for their caregiving workers.
A Program With Multiple Benefits
“My employer’s program to support caregivers was a lifeline,” said Matthew Skahill, 51, an associate director for Astellas, a pharmaceutical company. (I recently gave a presentation at Astellas when the firm launched its caregiver program.)
Skahill, who lives in Colorado, found himself with one daughter at college abroad, another gearing up for college applications and an ailing father with Parkinson’s disease who lives in Missouri.
Last year, Skahill's company launched a program for workers like him. It includes a robust set of benefits such as use of a professional geriatric care manager to meet with the elder to assess needs, create a care plan and walk the caregiver through options for community services and other help. This type of service is not new — a care manager network program from UnitedHealthcare has been around for more than 30 years. But the benefit was important to Skahill; he and his father are discussing having a legal document review to ensure everything is in order based on his dad’s latest wishes and ongoing needs. And Astellas included other benefits that he found invaluable.

“I was able to access the identify theft protection service for both my daughter in London, who had suspicious activity on her credit card, as well as my younger daughter,” Skahill says. He also plans to use the program’s college financial counseling service.
Flexible Work A Big Benefit
According to 2013 Pew Research report, 47 percent of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent over 65 and at least one child under 18 or an adult child still receiving financial assistance from mom and dad. One in seven of these Sandwich Generation caregivers are providing financial support for both their children and their aging parents.
(MORE: The Real Reason Why Caregivers are Stressed)
“We take a long term vision of our employees — they are as important to us as the products we create or the patients we serve with our products,” said Collette Taylor, senior vice president of human resources and facilities management for Astellas. “Our employees are an investment, and since our workforce tends to skew slightly older than the national average, we took a holistic view of their lifestyles and our role in helping them be healthy, financially secure and happy. This program is not just a source of pride for us, it also makes smart business sense.”
U.S. companies lose $31 billion a year to lost productivity, MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving have estimated. To help both the bottom line and employee morale and loyalty, more companies should look at offering workplace flexibility.
A study published in the Academy of Management Journal, found companies that offer job sharing, phased retirement of older workers, flex hours, telecommuting and other benefits for caregivers may have some upfront costs but will ultimately realize a return on the bottom line. One study tracked the announcement of new work-life balance policies by Fortune 500 companies and found that stock prices rose 0.36 percent on days following these announcements. This suggests that investors believe flex policies are profitable investments.  
(MORE: How to Balance Work and Caregiving Responsibilities)
The White House Council of Economic Advisors Report (June 2014) showed that 52 percent of workers said they believed they could do their job better if they were allowed a more flexible schedule. 
Use Of Caregiver Benefits Grows
Employees who are offered caregiver benefits are increasingly using them.
I host monthly “Caregiver Network” webinars for LifeCare, a work-life services company that provides caregiver programs to several Fortune 500 companies. In working with them, I learned they benchmarked use of caregiver services and found the number nearly doubled from 2011 to 2014. 
“This increase in using the expertise of a professional geriatric care manager showcases the growing need for working caregivers to receive some support through their employer,” said Bert Wachtelhausen, senior vice president of sales, client services and marketing at LifeCare. “These type of services are investments now in employees which pay off in long-term dividends for a company’s bottom line.”
Another organization that recognizes the caregiving role of its faculty and employees is Emory University. For more than 20 years, this academic institution has offered flexible leave policies, long-term care insurance and research and referral services for elder care help. Each year, Emory adds more to its caregiving services menu.

Today, caregiver workshops and access to a professional geriatric care manager network have high utilization rates among Emory's caregiving faculty and staff. The growing demand for caregiver guidance recently led the school to add an Onsite Care Consultant.
“Caring for and worrying about an older parent is often hard, especially if they do not live nearby,” said Skahill. “To know my employer not only understood what I was going through but provided services to help me through this time in life makes a huge difference in being able to manage it all. I feel like they are sincere in wanting to make a difference in my life.”

Photograph of Sherri Snelling
Sherri Snelling 
Sherri Snelling
 is a corporate gerontologist, speaker, and consultant in aging and caregiving. She is the author of “Me Time Monday – The Weekly Wellness Plan to Find Balance and Joy for a Busy Life” and host of the "Caregiving Club On Air" podcast.
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