Stressed Baby Boomers Miss Work To Care For Family Members
By MATTHEW STURDEVANT
The Hartford Courant April 23, 2010
Baby boomers are getting stressed out by caring for an ill or injured parent or other family member while balancing a full-time job, and as a result they're missing work themselves, according to a new survey by The Hartford and a major provider of employee-assistance programs.
"Our research found a troubling trend of baby boomer caregivers being pushed to their limits," said Barbara Campbell, regional vice president of the Group Benefits Division at The Hartford Financial Services Group.
The survey of 862 people born between 1946 and 1964 found that a majority of boomers are stressed out about caring for a child, parent or spouse. They're also worried about how their job is affected by caring for someone at home.
More than half of boomers 55 and older and 68 percent of younger boomers, 45 to 54, say they have missed work or left work early in the past six months because of responsibilities as a caregiver.
Additionally, boomers take more leave due to their own illness — of which stress is a contributing factor — than any other age group, according to a separate study of 91,000 workers at 171 businesses that contract with The Hartford for employee-benefits packages.
Campbell suggests that employers can help relieve pressure felt by boomers who are caregivers.
"We hope to raise awareness among employers about this risk to their employees' health and productivity because they play a key role in bringing workers' lives back into balance," Campbell said.
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Employed caregivers find it more difficult than non-caregivers to take care of their own health or participate in preventive health screenings. For example, women caregivers were less likely to report annual mammograms than non-caregivers. Employed caregivers of all ages and
gender defer preventive health screenings as well.
The relationship between employment and caregiving is complex. Taking on the caregiving role for an ill or disabled relative may depend on whether or not the individual is employed, how flexible his or her job is, and how intensive the demands of the caregiving are. Employed caregivers with little flexibility in their jobs who
are faced with intensive caregiving needs may be less likely to take on the caregiving role, or are more likely to reluctantly leave the workforce to accommodate their caregiving demands.
The MetLife study, Sons at Work: Balancing Employment and Eldercare, showed that men
share many of the same difficulties with caregiving identified by working women. Once caregiving has started, more than six out of 10 (62%) caregivers say that they make some sort of workplace accommodation, such as going in late/leaving early, taking a leave of absence, or dropping back to part-time.
Three percent chose early retirement and 6% gave up work entirely to care for an impaired or frail older relative. Thus, the relationship of caregiving and work may operate in both directions: Being employed reduces the likelihood of being a caregiver and being a caregiver reduces the likelihood of being employed.
The 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP national caregiver survey, Caregiving
in the U.S. (funded by MetLife Foundation), reports that 73% of family caregivers say that they are employed full- or part-time,1 while others suggest that this figure might be as low as 38%.2 Reconciling these differences
is difficult but important. To the extent that caregiving has economic consequences for the caregiver and for businesses, it will be essential to have accurate assessments of the number of those affected.
Most research has examined the effect of caregiving on women’s participation in the workforce and especially the short- and long-term economic impacts of work. Employed caregivers seem to be able to provide care
to someone for 14 hours or less per week (considered a low level of caregiving) with little impact on their ability to stay on the job.
However, providing 20 hours or more per week often results in major work adjustments, such as cutting back on hours or stopping work altogether, and the decline in annual income that goes with that work adjustment.
Women with less than a high school education are most likely to make these workplace accommodations and then lose income. These short-term effects increase the chances of longer-term negative impacts, including lower economic and health status of the caregiver. Longer-term economic impacts may in part be attributed to the difficulty of re-entering the labor force once caregiving stops.3, 4, 5
Finally, data on the cost effects of caregiving on business and industry are scarce. The primary resource on this topic is The MetLife Caregiving Cost Study: Productivity Losses to U.S. Business.6
Using caregiver prevalence estimates derived from the study, the authors estimate a cost to employers of $17.1 to $33.6 billion annually attributable to caregiving. These costs are due primarily to absenteeism ($5.1 billion), shifts from full-time to part-time work ($4.8 billion), replacing employees ($6.6 billion), and workday interruptions ($6.3 billion).
Starting in the mid-1980s, in response to myriad workplace supports for childcare, employers began to develop a similar array of workplace-based supports for corporate eldercare programs for employees.
:By 2020, one in three U.S. households is expected to be involved in caring for elderly or disabled relatives, up from one in four today, the survey said.
Smaller families flung over larger distances are making it harder to care for ill and aging relatives these days. Although the federal Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees most U.S. workers up to 12 weeks time off a year, this unpaid leave isn't an option that many families can afford. Employers often lose out because a large percentage of caregivers never return to the job.
To learn more about your company can provide a low cost caregiver support program for your employees contact Bob O'Toole at 1-800-375-0595 or visit us online at www.EldercareAtWork.com
As fraility increases, the amount of personal care needed also grows. The type and amount of care will also vary with the type of disease or disability, that is, someone with Alzheimer's disease will have different needs than someone with cancer, for example.
Caregiving is an act of love -- with consequences. Women have historically been presumed to be responsible for the well-being of their family members. In recent years, however, sons and male spouses have taken an increasingly active role as caregivers as well.
An important part of being a successful caregiver is remembering to take care of yourself. To provide effective care, you need to maintain your own health.
Neglecting yourself can have long-term consequences, not only for you, but for the person who needs your care. Adequate sleep and exercise, plus nutritious meals, are essential to your own well-being. Remember that the better care you take of your own health and emotions, the more you will be able to come through for the elderly person who needs you.
Taking time for yourself is also essential to your well-being. Helping an elderly person should not mean giving up all of your activities and relationships with other people. Give yourself a break from your caregiving activities by getting outside help.
Caregiver stress can result in fatigue and health problems for the caregiver. It does not help the elder needing care to have their family caregiver become ill. Hire someone to stay with your elderly relative so that you can go out for lunch, go shopping or see a movie. Take extended breaks, a vacation or simply get some regularly scheduled rest and relaxation.
Too frequently, caregivers are unwilling to ask for help because they think it may be a sign of inadequacy.
You need to set limits on what you will do. You cannot be expected to do it all. Other family members, even if they don't live nearby, can make a contribution. Community resources are available to help with many aspects of caregiving.