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Human resources: Preparing for elder-care issues

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

{safe_alt_text}A recent AARP Oregon study found that 52% of businesses reported that elder care is having an effect on employee performance. And that number is going to rise in the coming years as baby boomers age and younger generations spend more time and energy on figuring out how to keep their parents happy and healthy in their senior years.

But even while more and more businesses are being affected by the elder-care demands on their employees, very few have programs in place to help ease the burden and facilitate productivity.

“There are farsighted companies that have made it part of their approach and they are reaping the benefits of being early on the curve,” says John Paul Marosy, a national elder-care expert who was in Portland recently to speak at a family caregiver conference. “The other businesses are just realizing it.”

But Marosy has good news for businesses of all sizes: Setting up programs to help employees deal with the demands of being a caregiver to older family members doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

“A lot of companies perceive elder care as a black hole,” he says. “But all we’re talking about is PR time.” And not addressing the problem could cost businesses money. Marosy says that unaddressed stress can cost a business $3,000 a year in lost productivity per employee.

Here is Marosy’s top 10 list — low-cost or no-cost steps employers can take to prepare for the coming elder-care wave.

1. Keep a caregiver resource library and make sure employees know it exists. Stock it with books and other resources for finding options for care.

2. If you have an intranet, put up a page dedicated to caregiver resources with links to resources such as AARP (www.aarp.org) and the Oregon Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Disabilities (www.04ad.org).

3. Publicize the number for the elder-care locator service. Says Marosy: “It’s free, it’s funded by the government and it actually works.” The number is 800.677.1116.

4. Offer flexible work schedules. “If you have a highly valued employee and a care-giving issue comes up, provide support during that spike of stress,” advises Marosy. “A flexible schedule can help you hold on to that employee.”

5. Hold an elder care or family care fair where agencies and related businesses set up tables to provide information to employees. If you’re a small company, band together with other small companies to host a fair.

6. Hold lunch and learn sessions where experts come in and talk about a particular topic — how to tell the difference between forgetfulness and the onset of Alzheimer’s, for example, or different housing options available for seniors.

7. Recognize employees who volunteer with elder care-related groups such as Meals on Wheels. “That sends a message that this is an important topic,” Marosy says.

8. Host or publicize a caregiver support group. People find it helpful to get together and share their experiences providing care for their older family members. Have an empty conference room? Host a group. Know of one happening nearby? Tell employees.

9. Recognize managers who do the right thing. Many companies have policies on the books, but if a supervisor doesn’t take an enlightened approach by helping employees attend to elder-care demands, they aren’t effective.

10. Conduct regular training sessions with managers.

“This is an issue that’s not going to go away,” says Marosy. “The companies that address it earlier will have a strategic advantage as the labor market tightens up. Loyalty pays off.”

— Christina Williams

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American Association of Retired People — www.aarp.org/families/caregiving/

AARP’s page for caregivers includes links to the latest research, legal advice and tips on topics such as hiring home health workers and caring for far-away family members.

Caregiver Coalition of Oregon — www.oregoncares.org
This website has links to resources, training opportunities and events.

Elder Care Consulting and Services — www.bringingeldercarehome.com
Website for John Paul Marosy’s consulting services. He offers a free e-newsletter and publications geared toward employees and managers.

Oregon Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Disabilities — www.o4ad.org
This site includes news, a county-by-county listing of resources and extensive links.

The Home Care Companion — www.homecarecompanion.com
A Medford-based resource center and magazine for caregiver resources.


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