About 1 in 6 workers has elder care responsibilities of some kind, and given longer life expectancies, that share is likely to grow.
Workplaces have spent a lot more effort responding to employees' child care rather than elder care needs, but demographics are pushing the attention meter toward the other end of the age spectrum.
Experts in the elder care field are finding that many workers are quietly stressed by juggling attention to their aging relatives with devotion to their jobs.
"The average length of caregiving for an older person is a little over five years now, though in some cases it's more than 10," said Donna Wagner, a board member of the National Alliance for Caregiving and an associate dean at New Mexico State University.
That's a long time in a career for someone who's worried about job retention, advancement or good performance appraisals. Elder care, like child care, often requires time away from work at inconvenient times.
Wagner champions employers that provide workplace programs to educate employees about elder care resources in their communities. She points out that Hallmark Cards is one of the leading companies nationally in this regard.
A study released by the alliance looked at 17 other large employers to find "best practice" ideas to "help organizations understand the business case for elder care support," Wagner said.
Sadly, a Society for Human Resource Management survey found that the Great Recession apparently caused employers drop their elder care referral and education programs. The percentage offering them dropped to 9 percent in 2011 from 22 percent in 2007.
Why is this in a career advice column? Because it's no secret that workers who are pulled to deal with family and personal concerns can't do their best work on the job.
Workers might look for employers that seem sensitive to and helpful about elder caregiving needs. Organizations seeking to be employers of choice should know that a sizable share of workers have these dual responsibilities.
(Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star. Her "Your Job" blog at economy.kansascity.com includes daily posts about job-related issues of wide interest. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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