Labour Day signifies back to school and for many parents, having their children return to school is a great relief. However for many of those ‘sandwiched’ between working full time and providing caregiving assistance to older family members, a return to school may mean less time for themselves. Helping with homework, driving to afterschool activities, getting lunches made and dinner on the table makes me appreciate how many roles and responsibilities that we all juggle.
I reread an earlier blog that I wrote in September 2014 that concludes with a quote from Sherri Torjman from the Caledon Institute of Social Policy. In her essay titled They’re informal, but these workers are essential, she writes: “On Labour Day, we need to pay attention to this huge group of essential workers: the millions of informal caregivers who show up nowhere in the employment numbers, but figure so prominently in real life.”
The Conference Board of Canada last month released their paper titled: The Juggling Act. Balancing Work and Eldercare in Canada. They summarized that the “total spending on continuing care supports for seniors was $28.2 billion in 2011. Of this amount, $10.2 billion was estimated to have been paid by individuals out of pocket or through private insurance. Clearly, unpaid caregivers are shouldering a large part of the cost of eldercare.” They reviewed that the types of care provided by employed Canadians included emotional support (checking in); assistance with health and daily living- (such as shopping, going to appointments) and case management (scheduling and organizing appointments). (Reference: Duxbury and Higgins, Balancing Work, Childcare, and Eldercare.)
The Conference Board estimate that eldercare obligations cost business $1.28 billion per year. They reviewed that direct costs include:
training new personnel to replace those that leave because of caregiving responsibilities
Wages paid to absent workers
Overtime pay and wages for temporary replacement workers
Additional health care claims and benefit costs related to stress and short term and long term disability leave and that the Indirect Costs included reduced performance and loss of knowledge (from both an institutional, procedural perspective).
Their paper looked at the cost to business, let’s not forget however the emotional and financial cost and toll it takes on the employees themselves and of course, their families. 35% of employed Canadians are caregivers.
It seems to me that it would make good sense for companies to support their caregiving employees. There are a number of different ways for organizations to offer this support, ranging from a paid leave of absence which perhaps is the most expensive option, to offering a flexible work schedule and work from home option that would presumably be less expensive.
Sadly, the Conference Board survey found that formal elder care programs were uncommon among Canadian organizations. However, south of the Border, according to a 2016 study by AARP and ReACT, “for every dollar invested in flexible work arrangements, businesses can expect a return ranging from $1.70 to $4.34. Telecommuting, meanwhile, delivers a return of between $2.46 and $4.45 for each dollar invested.” (Reference: AARP and ReACT. “Determining the Return on Investment: Supportive Policies for Employee Caregivers.” (2016).
There are many other options such as ensuring that Employee Assistance Providers include an elder care component that can either offer resource identification or 1:1 counselling which might also be covered through extended health care benefits (ie social work services are frequently covered by insurance plans). Lunch and learn and other educational programs are also a great resource and can help support employees by providing important and helpful information before they reach a complete burnout requiring a formal leave.
We are an aging society and we need to continue to talk and find ways to support one another as our caregiving journey continues. Our government clearly cannot do it alone and we need business to be part of the dialogue. Question for the day, is your company part of the solution?