SHRM: Elder Care Weighs on Productivity

December 9, 2003 ( - Nearly half (47%) of human resource professionals are seeing an increase in the number of employees dealing with elder care issues, but only a quarter of companies offer elder care benefits.

HR professionals estimate that nearly 15% of employees in their organization deal with elder care issues. However, the impact is far greater on productivity as over half (59%) of the HR respondents witnessed employees who missed a full day from work, encountered workday interruptions (44%), or had stress-related health problems (29%). This in turn has led to an increase in turnover for 16% of HR professionals, responding to the Society of Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Elder Care Survey.

Breaking it down by company size shows a much more profound impact depending on company size. Twenty-three percent of respondents from large organizations – those firms with more than 500 employees – and 21% from medium-sized organizations – companies with a headcount between 100 and 499 – report seeing turnover due to employees challenged with elder care issues. Only 4% of small organizations – organizations with fewer than 100 employees – said the same. Additionally, HR professionals from large organizations are much more likely to report workday interruptions, strained employee/manager relationships and missed appointments and meetings than HR professionals from small and medium-sized organizations.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that HR professionals expect the number of employees caring for an aging relative to increase in the next five to 10 years. “The increasing need for elder care is an inevitability,” said SHRM President and CEO Susan Meisinger. “Employers have an opportunity to either anticipate and manage it in a way that benefits both the employer and employees, or let it smack them in the face a few years from now, dragging down productivity and increasing turnover as a result. Organizations simply can’t afford to ignore the cost of this reality.”

Employers Responding

Even though a quarter of organizations offer some kind of elder care benefit, nearly one-third of HR professionals agreed or strongly agreed that employers have an obligation to provide resources and assistance for employees facing elder care issues. Not surprisingly, almost 40% said elder care benefits are too costly for their organization, and one-third said there would not be enough employees utilizing elder care benefits to justify changing current benefits packages.

For those companies offering a common benefit to workers, it is unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for elder care reasons (88%). Those companies providing a benefit offering financial support for elder care most commonly offered dependent care flexible spending accounts (FSA) (64%). Further, 58% agreed or strongly agreed that it was necessary to increase the contribution amount permitted under dependent care flexible spending accounts to help employees financially deal with elder care issues. Nearly the same percentage agreed or strongly agreed that individual tax incentives for the purchase of long-term care insurance covering older relatives would help defray the costs of employer-provided long-term care assistance.