Benefits Products & Services
MISSING WORK TO PROVIDE ONGOING CARE FOR AN ADULT
How can an employer’s leave-of-absence policy respond?
Sometimes an employee must be away from the workplace for reasons that fall outside the traditional leave situations. Unum, a leading provider of group disability insurance and leave management services, recently released a study that provides insights into one such situation: an employee who misses work on an ongoing basis to care for an adult family member.
The study, conducted in March of this year among 657 working adults who provided care to adult family members, examines the difficulties employees face in providing adult care. It finds generational differences in workers’ attitudes toward these absences. And it suggests possible work arrangements for employers to consider.
“We saw from our work in family leave administration that paid parental leave receives a great deal of attention in the market and the media,” says Michelle Jackson, assistant vice president of regional market development at Unum. “That made us aware that there are needs involving Baby Boomers and older individuals who are dealing with caregiving responsibilities of a different kind.
“The birth of a child is a joyful experience, and while paid parental leave was gaining traction, there’s a large demographic that was dealing with caregiving of either an immediate family member or a parent that often wasn’t being given as much attention. That’s why we decided to undertake this research.”
Jackson learned about this subject firsthand when her father-in-law died suddenly and her mother-in-law needed personal care as her cognitive functioning had declined. “My husband and I both worked full time and had three teenagers, so providing daily support and intervention was a huge struggle. His siblings also worked full time, and two of the three of them lived several hours away.
“Being thrust into this situation, we found that the hardest part is that you’re trying to do the right thing for your family member, and you feel ill-equipped to figure it out.” She summarizes the experience as “emotionally draining and extremely stressful for all involved.”
According to a 2015 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 34 million Americans had provided care to an adult age 50 or over during the prior year. It’s a figure that presumably will grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages.
In Unum’s study, 52% of the participants reported that they had been providing care for more than a year and 30% for more than two years. The time spent providing care also is likely to grow as the person being cared for requires increased assistance, according to Unum’s study. More than three quarters (78%) of those currently providing care expect those caregiving responsibilities to increase both over the next five to 10 years and the coming 11 to 20 years.
In Unum’s study sample, 55% of the caregivers reported they were currently working more than 30 hours per week, and 19% were working 40 or more. It found that 75% of the caregivers had taken paid time off (PTO) or called in sick to care for a family member, 30% had taken (unpaid) time under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and 9% took paid family leave.
Although 78% of the Unum study’s participants shared their caregiving responsibilities with someone else, 60% of them spent up to 20 hours per week providing care, 22% between 21 and 30 hours, and 18% more than 30 hours.
The study notes that many employers accommodate caregiving employees through state-mandated leave requirements or through their own policies. When employees were asked what employers could do to help with their situation, the most common response (67%) was to allow them to have a flexible schedule.
Schedule flexibility can be provided in some jobs more easily than in others, but Jackson says employers are starting to pay closer attention to the needs of employees who provide care for adults and to amend their leave policies accordingly.
“Many of our customers who started out with just a paid parental leave benefit are now coming back to the table and saying, ‘We want to expand it to become a paid family leave benefit.’ It encompasses all kinds of events—not just a birth but any health event for a family member.” She adds that this trend is evident among employers of every size.
Unum’s study does not measure the percentage of each generation that is providing adult care. Instead the sample is about equally divided among Baby Boomers (ages 54-72), Gen-Xers (ages 38-53), and Millennials (ages 22-37). Presumably Baby Boomers and Gen-X employees, whose parents are older, are much more likely to be caring for adults than Millennials.
Among the adult caregivers in Unum’s study, Baby Boomers had the highest percentage of those working 40-plus hours per week (28%), followed by Gen-Xers (19%) and Millennials (10%). Likewise, the employees/adult caregivers who worked 31 to 40 hours per week were led by Baby Boomers (47%), followed by Gen-Xers (35%) and Millennials (26%).
Unfortunately, Jackson points out, “The Baby Boomer generation isn’t used to being very forward and open about what they need. The generation that has the highest percentage of caregiving responsibilities is the most stoic and isn’t going to ask for help.
“Employers need to ask about employee needs because sometimes hearing nothing doesn’t mean that there aren’t needs. When we did our study, we found it shocking that a large majority of the employees had not shared with their employer that they were in a caregiving arrangement. So there is still a stigma or hesitancy to share that kind of information.”
The differences between older and younger employees are stark, Jackson adds. “Millennials almost demand better work-life balance. They are not shy about saying that they’re not willing to work a 16-hour day or work into the weekend, for example.”
Jackson suggests that employers include questions about adult caregiving when they survey employees about their current benefits and needs. “Most of our clients send out these surveys annually. We’re seeing that caregiving is making it into the surveys more often.”
Also, she notes, “If the employer has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), we recommend that it clearly identifies what resources under the EAP are unique or distinct for elder care and make sure to aggregate or highlight that information separately.
“Fortunately for me, when I went through the situation with my mother-in-law, I first called our EAP, and they were able to identify three assisted living facilities in our geographic area within our price range that were certified and recommended. That saved me time and stress, and I was able to call the three choices and set up interviews.”
An employer can offer a broad spectrum of help, says Jackson. The most common is some kind of extended leave or flexible work arrangement. “Most employers are willing to do that. Often it can be short term—maybe the employee is placing a parent in a nursing home or seeking medical care. It might be intense for a week or a couple of months, but once the employee figures it out, it settles down.”
An employer can provide information on elder care and placement options and offer guidance on legal matters such as setting up a durable power of attorney, Jackson says. Beyond these sources of assistance, she emphasizes the need for employers to pay attention to the effects of stress on employees who are providing care for adults.
Among the caregivers in the study, 61% reported experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression and 49% experienced exhaustion. The numbers were higher (72% and 58%) for Baby Boomers. Overall, 44% also reported financial strains resulting from caregiving.
Employers that are able to help mitigate the harsh effects of the stress on working caregivers will build loyalty among employees and improve productivity. “First and foremost,” says Jackson, “an employer needs to have policies in place that will support caregiving. They need to think about the leave time a caregiving employee needs and offer some kind of flexible work arrangement.”
Thomas A. McCoy, CLU, is an Indiana-based freelance insurance writer.
Leave management Resources
Transportation assistance for caregivers—Unum’s study found that 68% of the working caregivers were providing transportation for medical care. The study’s commentary notes that ride services such as Uber and Lyft sometimes can be an option for older adults to get to medical or other appointments. It names companies that offer more customized transportation for older adults who need additional assistance: GoGoGrandparent, Arrive, Via, SilverRide, and Liberty Mobility Now. Transportation of older adults also may be available through volunteer organizations or places of worship.
Answers to commonly asked questions—Unum offers a resource on its website titled “Commonly Asked Questions About Leave and Absence Management.” It presents details about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), including a list of states that have leave laws whose provisions go beyond those of the FMLA. Also included are a definition of intermittent leave and return-to-work guidelines for employees who have been out on FMLA.