A Framework for Managing the Eldercare-Work Balancing Act
By John Paul Marosy
Every employer faces a unique combination of factors when mapping a strategy for human resources. The following guidelines, listed in order of priority, provide a framework for action:
- Begin at the top. Creating a family-friendly work environment requires a genuine commitment from top management. It's the company's culture, the unspoken rules, that really make the difference. If a company offers flex-time but an employee's supervisor won't let her use it, it doesn't do the employee--or the company--any good. If middle managers don't see company executives "walk the talk" of work-life balance, good programs may be rendered ineffective.
- Take a life-cycle approach. Employees in various age groups have different needs regarding work-life balance. Avoid backlash from employees with no dependent-care needs by presenting eldercare initiatives as one spoke in the framework of a broader commitment to work-life balance.
- Include training for managers. Improve managers' awareness of the issues surrounding aging and caregiving, and help them examine their views on accommodating workers' efforts to balance personal and family obligations with job responsibilities.
- Know your employees' needs. For example, how many employees actively care for aging relatives or expect to do so within two years? What proportion of employees' parents live in distant communities?
- Emphasize prevention. Train managers to identify stress related to elder caregiving. Legitimize caregiving as an important issue by repeatedly highlighting information on available resources in employee newsletters and other communications.
- Tap local resources. Whether a company chooses to provide information to employees by setting up an on-site family resource center containing newsletters, books, website addresses and videotapes, or whether it arranges services or subsidies for direct supports (like geriatric care management or emergency backup homecare), the place to start is the local community. Contact the state unit on aging. The federal Administration on Aging website (at www.aoa. dhhs.gov/aoa) provides contacts in all 50 states.
- Choose consultants with care. Research a potential consulting firm's track record specific to eldercare. The Alliance for Work-Life Progress is a good resource: www.awlp.org.