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More and more Canadian workers are responsible for caring for aging parents, and employers need to heed the call

By Susan Hyatt

The CIBC report, “Who Cares: The Economics of Caring for Aging Parents,” should be a wake-up call for all Canadian employers. The report was based on CIBC’s Aging Parents Poll, an online survey of randomly selected adults across Canada, taken March 16 to 20 this year.

The 2016 census from Statistics Canada showed that nearly 17 per cent of Canadians are now 65 and older, a dramatic rise that will continue in the coming decade.

Coupled with that is the fact that those who will be caregivers to their elderly parents are going to comprise a much smaller share of the overall economy. Right now, 2 million Canadians – 14 per cent of those with parents over age 65 – incur out-of-pocket, direct care-related costs; the average is $3,300 per year per caregiver.

Workforce-related costs are also climbing. The survey showed that 30 per cent of workers with eldercare responsibilities sacrifice an average of 450 hours away from work each year, or roughly 25 per cent of their total working hours. Women also take 30 per cent more time off work than men to care for aging parents, which comes with an entirely different set of workplace complications. Clearly, the impact on the workplace is huge and the pressures will continue to mount, so employers should heed the call.

Unfortunately, the “ostrich mentality” – sticking one’s head in the ground with the hope that the problem will go away – is rampant.

Employees carrying the additional burden of eldercare responsibilities are exhausted, overwhelmed and trying to deal with a maze of health, financial and legal issues as they struggle to find care for elderly relatives.

Providing support for employees

In the United States, Deloitte has been trying to strike the right balance in terms of tackling its employees’ eldercare needs. The company has a family leave program that allows employees to take paid time off for eldercare, spousal care or childcare beyond infancy. Both male and female employees can take up to 16 weeks of paid family leave each year.

Canadian companies can learn from this approach. To put the issue on the table, HR professionals must generate buy-in from senior management and focus on eldercare as a critical strategic business priority.

If an executive is managing 40 people and 10 of those employees have eldercare issues, the team’s productivity will obviously be impacted. The company needs firm eldercare support policies and programs, along with executives who will implement them. A formal eldercare program would include education for leaders, managers and employees.

Next, take an honest look at the realities of caregiving and compare those to the offerings in your benefits plan. Some employers offer a basic eldercare service through their benefits plan – typically a call-in service. However, this is much more complicated than making a telephone call. If your 90-year-old mother falls and breaks her hip, what are your options? How do you get the hospital to delay her discharge so you can talk to her financial planner, and what can you do this week?

Often, people don’t know who to call for help. This can be addressed with a good eldercare preparation program and potential referrals to trusted service providers. As for flex-work, many organizations have policies, but they only go so far. Consider this: a person looking after an elderly parent in Ontario can expect to devote 6.5 years – that’s the average – to the situation.

Another common issue is how to juggle work and caregiving. Education seminars and ongoing communications for employees and providing referrals and links to local resources in the community are all good ideas.

It’s important for employers to educate their workers in terms of time, cost and expertise required when it comes to eldercare. As it stands now, the Canadian workplace is just beginning to wake up to the realities of caring for an aging population.

It takes a village to deal with various eldercare scenarios. That means the caregiver needs a lot of help. Not having a program is waiting for the inevitable, but then it will be too late. 

Susan Hyatt is the co-founder and CEO of Silver Sherpa Inc.

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