Integrating Work and Care

By: Donna Lero
Canadian Healthcare Manager Vol. 14:4; August 2007

While our workforce is aging, employees today are dealing with the stress of being caregivers to aging family members, spouses and partners, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, extended family and at times, co-workers. In the future, even more employees will be involved with providing care and support due to delayed child bearing, healthcare constraints, our aging national demographic and the fact that fathers increasingly want to be involved.

From providing long term care and support to assistance with acute and episodic care, workers are involved in different types of care and it is taking up a significant amount of their time. According to a 2002 Statistics Canada report, the average working age Canadian provides four hours of care every week. But other statistics provide and even clearer picture:

In 2002, more than 1.7 million adults aged 45-64 provided care to a senior with a long term disability of physical limitation. Of those caregivers, 70% were employed. In a national sample of employees from medium to large workplaces, 26% reported high levels of caregiver strain related largely to eldercare.

These care giver duties and reported strain have accounted for adjustments to their work life. According to the General Social Survey (GSS), in 2002, of employees aged 45-64 who were caring for seniors, 27% of women and 16% of men changed their workplace patterns (for example, they came in late or left early); 250,000 workers reduced their work hours; 38,000 men and women declined a promotion; and 20,000 quit their jobs altogether.

For employers, addressing caregiver issues is an important retention strategy. Of GSS respondents, 10% claimed they retired, in part, in order to care for family members and 6% would have continued working if suitable caregiving arrangements could have been found. And this is an issue of the future as well since in 2002, one in five women and one in ten men said caregiving would likely be a reason for their retirement.

Employers must look at the following policies and practices that affect work- life balance in order to accommodate the increasing needs of employed caregivers: flex time and leaves of absence, income support/replacement, personal support, benefits plan that can extend to senior family members, assisting in locating caregiver services and recognizing the difficulty caregivers are facing. Employers must be more proactive and help provide broader solutions.

In conclusion, employers should recognize that caregiving and support provisions are important facets in the lives of their employees. Employers must think ahead and remove roadblocks in order to facilitate the integration of work and care and help employees anticipate needs and stress points. They must also consider benefits and resources that they can provide and employees will need. Employers should not ignore opportunities to influence public policy and to help build community resources and should contribute to knowledge building and bench marking.

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