e your caregiving employees?

With the aging boomer population and increased longevity, many employees have to worry not only about childcare but also about eldercare for aging parents and loved ones.

But the demographics of these working caregivers may not be what you expect, according to a recent U.S. study.

In June 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics within the U.S. Department of Labor issued the results of its 2011 American Time Use Survey. For the first time, the study released data and information pertaining to caregiving and eldercare within the working population. While Statistics Canada has released similar information in the past (and is expected to release 2011 information in September), the U.S. study sheds some interesting light on the issue.

The findings in the study are U.S.-focused; however, our geographical proximity, similarity in workforce and similarities from a statistical perspective make the information also applicable to the Canadian employee population.

The survey asked respondents how they spend their time in various activities throughout the day. One area of focus was on eldercare, which was defined as “providing unpaid care or assistance to an individual who needed help because of a condition related to aging.” The individuals were asked about providing eldercare to someone, more than once, within the past three to four months.

Traditionally, the focus has been placed solely on so-called “sandwiched” female workers—those workers who deal with both childcare and adult/senior care issues. However, one of the more profound findings of the study was that 44% of eldercare providers were men.

The study also found that across all age groups, almost two in 10 workers have faced eldercare challenges in the past three to four months. Similar studies in Canada have shown that as high as 27% of workers provide care to a loved one in any given year (Balancing Paid Work and Caregiving Responsibilities: A Closer Look at Family Caregivers in Canada, January 2009). The productivity and absenteeism impacts of this, while not often measured, are likely significant for the workplace. Employers need strategies for assisting those employees dealing with eldercare challenges that are equally accessible by both male and female worker populations.

Another important finding was that the younger working population is also being called on to assist with caring for the elderly. Employees ages 15 to 34 providing eldercare represented 23% of survey respondents. It has commonly been assumed that the aging workforce (those age 40 and over) will be called upon to provide eldercare to a loved one, but this study suggests that the challenges are much more widespread. While the number of older workers supporting a loved one through caregiving will likely accelerate, attention also needs to be paid to younger workers facing the same difficulties.

Lastly, the study shows an interesting breakdown of the population that is receiving the caregiving. Typically, organizations believe that employees faced with an eldercare challenge are providing care to a parent (often at the same time as a child). Indeed, the study found that this group is the largest, at just over 42%.

Remarkably, though, 20% of employees provided care for grandparents. Those caring for “another related person” (such as an aunt, uncle, sister or brother) also made up 20% of caregiving employees. Spouses providing care for another spouse was a small percentage, at 4%. The implication for organizations is that traditional discussions about caregiving have tended to focus on parents but need to broaden to ensure that all caregiving employees, regardless of who they are providing care to, are suitably supported with resources and access to programs that the organization may have in place.

It is widely understood that the population is aging at a more rapid pace. Increasingly, individuals are facing the challenge of balancing employment responsibilities as well as providing care to a loved one. As studies such as the one referenced here are released, data are improving for employers to better understand the impact of caregiving on their organizations.

With clearer understanding, employers can add resources and tools to their benefits and HR practices to improve organizational performance and provide support to the members of their workforce facing these challenges.