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Eldercare is the new frontier of work-family balance

Published by: LifeWorks,

Elder care is a challenge for the 'sandwich generation'

Supporting carers to stay in work is becoming a major challenge for employers, as the numbers of workers caring for an elderly family member rises.  Carers UK reports that there are three million working carers, representing one in eight in the workplace; a significant proportion of which are eldercarers.  With an ageing population, longer living, extended working lives and a squeeze on social services, the number of working eldercarers is set to soar. The organisation predicts that by 2037 there will be nine million carers in the UK. 

Around 85% of these carers, the majority of whom are women, are the ‘sandwich generation’, caring for offspring as well as elderly parents.  And there is a growing number of the ‘club sandwich generation’ too; baby boomers taking care of older parents, as well as millennial children and grandchildren. 

This ‘demographic pincer’ has been brewing for a while.  Adults are living longer; up 5 years since 1995 and women are having children later.  Numbers of UK mothers who gave birth to their first child aged 35 or older doubled between 1995 and 2015.  Yet the focus in the workplace is generally on supporting parents with school age children.  It’s acceptable to take time off to look after a sick child, but less so to look after an elderly relative.  Most companies have family friendly policies in place, but only 9% currently include eldercare support.   

With the peak age of caring between 50-64, employers are at risk of losing some of their most experienced and skilled employees.  Figures show that already 2.3m have given up work to care and 3m have reduced their working hours. Research by Eldercare says that over a quarter are contemplating reducing their working hours, with 15% wanting to quit their job completely. 

Working carers report that their duties significantly and negatively impact their lives: 61% said their physical health had worsened and 70% said their mental health had suffered (Carers UK).  Finances can be significantly impacted too, creating more worry. 

Employees bring their care giving stress to work and are less productive and more prone to absence as a result.  Three in five say that a relative has had an incident requiring medical attention, such as a fall, whilst they were at work and 21% have left work at short notice to provide urgent care. Carers UK estimates it costs UK business £3.5bn a year in productivity, recruitment and replacement costs. 

The situation will only worsen and employers need to respond urgently to this social change. Last year, Care Minister David Mowat put the onus firmly on families, saying that tackling the social care crisis requires people to take responsibility for looking after their elderly parents as they do their own children. 

But employees are concerned about the stigmas associated with caring for an elderly parent and think it may impact negatively on their career.  What can companies do to support the growing number of working eldercarers and keep them in the workplace, not to mention attract carers who would like to work? 


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