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Careers The No. 1 thing employers can do for workers who are balancing eldercare with careers

female caregivers take on significantly more of the daily, time-consuming tasks than male caregivers do, according to a Statistics Canada report last year.

Yuri Arcurs Peoplelmages.com /stock

Like many other companies, K+S Potash Canada is fully aware of the impact that age-related caregiving responsibilities has on its hundreds of employees.

A recent editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal said that with 93 per cent of elderly Canadians living at home, informal caregivers provide up to 75 per cent of care services, which amounts to about $24-billion to $31-billion in unpaid work annually.

And the number of elderly Canadians is set to double over the next 20 years, according to the publication.

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In addition, female caregivers take on significantly more of the daily, time-consuming tasks than male caregivers do, according to a Statistics Canada report last year, Time use: Total work burden, unpaid work, and leisure.

The demands put on the families of those elderly people, and the need to help its employees achieve balance between their work and personal lives, was one of the main reasons the Saskatoon-based company introduced its Plus+ Time program in 2013.

The initiative gives full-time employees up to 40 hours a year to be used whenever needed in the process of caring for immediate family members. Part-time employees receive a pro-rated amount.

“By giving employees more flexibility in the way they get their work done, they’re able to balance the demands of family life with work,” said Daniel Ross, manager, human resources at KSPC in an e-mail.

Mr. Ross notes that this kind of program, along with other kinds of flex time, such as a compressed work week, is an important employee perk that helps the company to retain and attract the best talent.

In addition, given that much of the unpaid family-care work falls on women, he hopes that the program helps the company “work towards our diversity and inclusion goals, especially increasing the number of women who work in mining.”

Allison Cowan, director of human capital research for the Conference Board of Canada, said that the costs for companies that don’t try to provide their employees with workable solutions for elder care are high. They can range from stress and burnout and mental-health challenges to exhaustion and a high susceptibility to physical illness. And for those who are still coming into the office, there remains the risk of not performing to their potential.

Forty-three per cent of employees arrived to work late or had to leave early and 15 per cent cut back their weekly work hours, according to Statistics Canada’s latest available data from 2012. Longer-term career consequences included 14 per cent of workers reporting losing some or all of their benefits and 10 per cent saying they turned down a promotion or new job.

However, successfully supporting employees presents a massive hurdle for companies to overcome.

“There’s really no one-size-fits-all solution,” Ms. Cowan said. “I think organizations are a bit in tune with how to support employees with their child-care needs, but elder care can be a bit more unpredictable.”

For companies that are considering their options in this area, she said they should first take stock of what they have in their toolbox. This might include things like employee assistance programs, benefits programs and providing access to counselling.

But the No. 1 thing that employees need to best balance their work and home life is flexibility, she adds.

“Flexibility around work hours can really go a long way,” she said. “Allowing employees to work remotely from time to time and offering, in some cases, part-time work or a short leave to manage a crisis situation,” are potential strategies.

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As a way to recognize companies that place a heavy emphasis on supporting employees juggling elder care alongside their work duties, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) recently introduced its Canadian Compassionate Company designation.

Organizations must meet three of the five outlined criteria to receive the designation, which was designed as a way to put hospice palliative care firmly on the radar of corporate Canada.

So far, 12 companies have received the designation, mainly in the corporate or health-care sectors, such as Fidelity Investments or Pfizer Canada Inc.

Having the designation can help in the competition for top talent, but it also helps companies to retain their best people.

“It costs more for a corporation to lose somebody and rehire them than it does to just keep them happy, so [getting] a Compassionate Company designation really shows the employees that their company values them,” said Kelly MacLaren, development and partnerships officer for the CHPCA.

Based on an estimated 54 hours a week to care for a dying family member, 64 per cent of those polled in a 2004 Ipsos-Reid survey said they could not fit that into their schedule. Trying to meet those requirements can cause stress and physical ailments to employees and companies that can get ahead in supporting these employees can really win in the long run, Ms. MacLaren said.

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“We all know the expression that you have to put your own air mask on before assisting someone else,” she said. “It’s critical for caregivers to look after themselves and for employers to make that easier to do can really pay dividends in the end.”

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