Demands of elder caregiving impacting employees: study

Working Canadians are negatively impacted by the demands of caring for an elderly relative, according to a new study from Ryerson University.

Michael Halinski, assistant professor of organizational behaviour and human resource management at the university’s Ted Rogers School of Management, found the demands of elder care results in less sleep and time to pursue personal interests, which has a domino effect on the workplace with an increase in absenteeism and a reduction in productivity.

Read: My Take: Childcare support welcome, but what about elder care?

Halinski examined two groups of people in a caregiver role — those in the sandwich generation with both childcare and elder-care responsibilities and those with only elder-care demands. He found the group with only elder-care responsibilities was more overwhelmed, which led to employees having difficulty with work-life balance, a common finding in other research.

However, the study also found, in addition to being more overwhelmed, employees with only elder-care demands were more negatively impacted than their counterparts in the sandwich generation. This finding is contrary to what was formerly believed, says Halinski.

“The thing we found which was unexpected, and really cool, is that we expected the situation to be worse for people in the sandwich generation who have young children to take care of as well as elders. We found that because they had to balance work with childcare, we thought they would be worse off in those situations, and we found the opposite to be true. People with elder-care responsibilities without other caregiving responsibilities were actually worse off.”

Read: How to support working caregivers

Employers can use this information when considering benefits for their employee caregivers, says Halinski, because it’s important to remember it isn’t just parents who need support. “People have been forgetting about people who don’t have kids, or any family responsibility per se. They’ve been taken out of the work-life balance conversation and there’s been a little pushback from them saying, ‘Employers should be looking at me as well.'”

Where employees have elder-care demands, whether on top of childcare responsibilities or not, employers should offer family-friendly benefits that fit with what these people need and what they want, he adds. “So whether that means specific demands, or a more family-friendly culture, supervisors that allow for not just taking time off when your kids are at home, but perhaps when a parent needs you.”

Referring to an example where an employee’s elderly parent falls down the stairs, Halinski says: “You need to be able to get up and leave and have it be acceptable, and not [be] black marked or punished as a result of it.”

Read: U of T focusing on employee work-life balance with family-friendly benefits