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5 Signs Senior Care is a Source of Employee Stress

Patrick Ball on March 20, 2015 08:57 AM

We’ve already told you senior care could be America’s next corporate crisis. That it’s an issue nobody’s talking about. That, if left unchecked, elder care issues could sneak up on employers even as it costs them tens of billions in productivity each year.

But have you connected the dots about the employee stress simmering in your workplace?

As our population ages, more and more American adults are finding themselves thrust into the position of caring for a parent or elderly relative. Doing so presents many challenges, as senior care responsibilities are unpredictable, uncharted territory for most – not to mention that almost two-thirds of these caregivers are also working full-time.

“Caring for elderly parents is a different stressor than caring for a new child is,” says Sabrina Baker, an HR consultant. “These are the individuals that took care of you and now these roles are reversed. Mentally, dealing with that transition can be difficult.”   

Yet, many employees feel afraid or uncomfortable talking about the stress of caring for their parents or adult relatives with their supervisors or colleagues. And this lingering stigma around senior care is why this growing issue is sneaking up on employers. 

So look out for these seven signs your employees’ might be struggling with elder care responsibilities. And when you start spotting them, reach out to your employees and follow these tips on how to help. 

  1. Uncharacteristic Absenteeism
    A typically steady worker suddenly missing time is a pretty clear signal that something’s up. That something could be caring for an aging relative. Although many senior caregivers won’t volunteer details of their situation, they tend to be more willing to open up when given an outlet. 

    Tip: If you suspect your employees are struggling the stress of elder care responsibilities, set up a support group for senior caregivers and those helping relatives cope with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Elder care issues aren’t as easy to talk about as child care, so giving employees a “safe” place where they can seek and find support will help with stress management. 
  1. Distraction
    Absenteeism isn’t the only sign that caregiving needs are impacting work performance. Presenteeism – when an employee’s physically at work, but his or her mind is elsewhere – is another indicator that something’s going on at home. You can often see the signs of presenteeism in a sudden lack of focus or enthusiasm, or when productivity slips without explanation. 

    Remember: If an employee is at his or her computer all day without turning in their projects, their online shopping might be for assisted living facilities -- not shoes. But if you can educate employees about their options, it removes a layer of stress from an already difficult situation. These types of employer-provided benefits have become increasingly common in recent years.  
  1. Stress Showing
    Workplace stress affects everybody. But if you notice an employee missing deadlines, skipping meetings or showing major signs of stress at work, it could be an indicator that they’re struggling to adjust to new caregiving responsibilities. Compared to parenthood, when there is time to prepare (and celebration all around), caring for an aging relative is often a difficult situation that comes on unexpectedly (after a fall or diagnosis) and there are no good surprises. 

    Check Out: 7 Stress Management Tips for Sandwich Generation Employees 
  1. Unexpected Adjustments
    Almost 70 percent of caregivers are forced to make workplace adjustments, such as turning down promotions, scaling back hours or even leaving their jobs. If an employee’s performance starts to slip, or they start cutting back on hours or projects, their reprioritization of work could be due to increased responsibilities at home, such as caring for a parent or ailing relative. “Don’t ignore the obvious,” says Sharlyn Lauby, HR consultant and author of the blog HR Bartender. “Employees might start asking about the company’s policy on taking time off so they can care for their aging parents and relatives.” 

    Tip: Flexibility can be a huge help for caregiving employees. The option to work from home or help with senior care planning can be the difference that helps a stressed and struggling employee avoid burnout or even his or her career on hold. 

  2. Fatigue
    Juggling caregiving responsibilities with a full-time job can mean burning the candle at both ends. High-stress situations like doctor’s appointments, monitoring medications and spats with siblings over acting as dad’s proxy, can happen before, during and after the workday. An employee bearing the load Sandwich Generation stress “may show signs of physical exhaustion, including dark circles under the eyes and a disheveled appearance from lack of sleep,” says Baker.

How You Can Help 

You’ve heard us refer to senior care as “The Work-Life Issue Nobody’s Talking About.” So let’s change that.  

When we know that stress costs businesses something like $300 billion annually, and with nearly half of adults in their 40s and 50s a part of the Sandwich Generation – those who are providing some level of care for their children and aging relatives – this is a growing issue that demands our attention.

Leading organizations have begun the conversation around elder care – 43 percent of employers provide elder care resource and referral services and 41 percent provide dependent care assistance programs for elder care, according to the Families and Work Institute’s 2014 National Study of Employers.

Employer-provided supports, like flex work options, care-assistance benefits, support groups or even information can make all the difference for Sandwich Generation and caregiving employees – while also protecting your business’s bottom line.