Eldercare Solutions for the Silent Small Business Problem


Chances are there’s someone on your staff who suffers excess stress as a daily reality — employees who care for elderly parents. And while eldercare has some of the same challenges as caring for children, there are some important differences.

First, eldercare is often wildly unpredictable. You never know when a parent will be hurt, hospitalized or encounter an emergency. Second, while most people can empathize with childcare issues, unless you’ve actually gone through eldercare, you have no idea how draining it is. As a result, employees dealing with elderly parents tend to be reluctant to ask for accommodations. And if they do ask — there’s often a perception they’re shirking work.

In reality, most employees dealing with elderly parents at home live for the hours they get to spend at work in a relatively calm, controlled environment where they’re not worried about dad setting himself on fire or mom wandering off down the street.

Aside from helping your employees because it’s the right thing to do, there are bottom line reasons to find eldercare solutions. Nearly two-thirds of eldercare givers have to make some sort of workplace accommodation, such as changing their schedules, quitting their jobs or reducing their hours to part-time to handle the responsibilities, according to figures cited by ElderCare Resources. When valued employees have to cut back hours or leave altogether, everyone loses.

With an aging work force, eldercare will assume more importance in the coming years. If your industry is one where many of your employees are old enough to be dealing with this issue, it’s something you should be thinking about now.

Here are four things you can offer to help employees deal with elderly parents:

Offer Flexible Hours

Flexibility is the biggie here. Caregivers never know when they’ll have to deal with an emergency. Enabling employees to work from home when they need to will take much of the stress off.

In addition, little things like being able to leave early to take parents to doctors’ appointments, or private spaces to conference call with doctors, make a big difference. Three-fourths of companies offer time off for eldercare, according to the 2014 Families and Work Institute National Study of Employers (PDF) — although very few offer paid time off.

Get Educated

Talk to your company health insurance provider to see what types of information and assistance they offer for employees dealing with eldercare. See if you can get local nonprofit organizations, eldercare consultants, assisted living centers or other geriatric services companies to come in and hold lunchtime seminars for employees.  (It’s a chance for them to sell their services.) Some companies may even have eldercare assistance plans affordable for small businesses, providing services such as phone consultations or emergency backup care.

Offer Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs)

Eldercare can be financially ruinous to families. To alleviate some of the worry, consider offering your employees dependent-care flexible spending accounts (FSAs). Like health spending accounts (HSAs), these enable employees to put aside pretax dollars to be spent on eldercare or child care. It will appeal to working parents, too.

Grass Roots Help

You can also get creative by tapping into the expertise of your employees who have dealt with this issue. A study by the National Alliance for Caregiving (PDF) cites one company that created an in-house support group of employees. The company even helped pay for the cost of employees attending workshops and seminars on eldercare, then reporting back to others in the support group on what they learned.

By taking these steps, you’ll help your employees stress less about their parents, so they can focus more on their jobs.

Elder Photo via Shutterstock

Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.