Corporations lend a hand to employees in planning elder care

Businesses are just beginning to respond to a trend that is affecting a growing number of employees. As Americans live and work longer, employees are taking on responsibilities for their older family members, particularly parents. These responsibilities, commonly called ``care-giving,'' include arranging for financial management, legal guidance, health insurance, and other needs. Sometimes these duties affect the children's jobs. ``The older the work force, the more likely children will be caring for parents,'' notes Dana Friedman, of the Work and Family Information Center of the Conference Board, New York.

For many, this responsibility affects job performance, according to Robyn Stone of the National Center for Health Services Research, in Rockville, Md. Some workers have had to quit their jobs or cut back their work hours, while others have rearranged schedules or took time without pay.

A 1982 survey, the most comprehensive to date, found that almost 75 percent of 7.7 million care-givers were female, according to Dr. Stone. With older women entering the labor force, they will probably continue to play the major care-giving roles.

Because employers see employees handling family responsibilities during work hours -- when the services most elderly people need are available -- companies are helping by providing ``preventive'' services. Among these are seminars, counseling programs, and casework. ``I think employers want to play a facilitating role,'' Dr. Friedman says.

The Travelers Company, Hartford, Conn., offers a ``flexible spending account,'' which allows employees to put pre-tax dollars into an account for use in paying bills of dependents. A couple of hundred employees take part in the plan.

A June 1985 survey showed the company that about 20 percent of its employees over age 30 had care-giving responsibilities. In addition, 67 percent of the employees are female, and 68 percent of the employees are over 30. Some employees are taking care of family members at both ends of the age span.

Jim Davis, vice-president of personnel administration, says, ``We will do anything we can to help our employees focus better attention on productivity and morale. The thing we are best able to give is counseling and information.''

Centers and associations are joining with businesses and elder-care services to study the demands of care-giving. The University of Bridgeport's Center for the Study of Aging, for example, is conducting an elder-care project with three corporations.

Donna Wagner, project evaluation director, notes that the project was able to get in the door with some companies ``because the executives had older parents themselves.'' She says that, statistically, employees over age 40 have elderly parents who require care.

The Elder Services of Merrimack Valley, in Lawrence, Mass., is conducting a national project with Wang Laboratories to find out what employees think about day care for elderly relatives. ``We're studying elder care as an employee benefit,'' explains executive director Roseanne DiStefano.

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Washington, D.C., has developed a four-part care-giving package that businesses can use. The package includes a survey, which is based on the Travelers' survey, a planning guide, a series of training sessions, and a care management guide that eight companies are now using.

``Corporations have done a lot with child care, because of absenteeism and stress, and corporations are being forced to look at the care-giving issue,'' says Angela Heath, a program specialist at AARP.

Aerospace Corporation in Los Angeles is participating in the AARP program. A care-giving fair given for 300 employees provided resources many attendees weren't aware of. ``We feel like we've come across a need. We have a social responsiblity to our employees,'' says Denise Jessup, retiree relations administrator.

Social and demographic factors are probably on the side of care-givers, says Ms. Wagner of University of Bridgeport's Center for the Study of Aging.

In Fairfield County, Conn., where the unemployment rate is 3 percent, ``we're looking at an economic situation that makes elder care-giving more valuable,'' because replacing workers is difficult and expensive. ``You can't match the skill level,'' she notes.

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