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CEO of Silver Sherpa, Inc.

If you are a young CEO or a person running a small business or department, then elder care is probably not on your radar. At least, not yet. But it is already a huge issue in the workplace as Generation X and the sandwich generation (those with kids of their own and with elderly parents) take time off to help their moms and dads.

Any company – big or small – has to recognize that elder care is now a strategic business issue, yet precious few have addressed it. It is particularly acute for small business. Why? Imagine a director of sales, obviously a key person in an organization, must suddenly help her elderly mother. Often, this involves a crisis – her mother fell and broke her hip, or she is returning home from hospital after major surgery and is discharged prematurely. Either way, the elderly parent – likely living alone – needs help and turns to her daughter.

The director of sales is the only sibling in the family who lives nearby, so the onus falls on her shoulders. It means she will be off work for a few weeks. To make matters worse, what if something similar happens to another key person in the company – maybe the head of HR or training, or the chief financial officer? What if it happens at the same time? Indeed, if circumstances befall two or three members of the senior management team, it could be catastrophic for the business.

Last year, CIBC released a report called Who Cares: The Economics of Caring for Aging Parents. The report was based on CIBC's Aging Parents Poll, an online survey of randomly selected adults across Canada taken in March, 2017. Employers should take heed. Here are some survey highlights:

  • 17 per cent of Canadians are 65 and older, but in the next decade this will rise to 22 per cent;
  • Some two million Canadians – or 14 per cent of those with parents over age 65 – incur out-of-pocket, care-related costs, and the average outlay is $3,300 per year per caregiver;
  • 30 per cent of workers with elder care responsibilities sacrifice an average of 450 hours off work each year, which is about 25 per cent of their total work hours.

Keep in mind that that the largest group of caregivers is aged 45 to 65 and often those in the company with the most expertise and experience. Also, people in the workforce today are staying healthy and working longer, but they may be caregivers to more than one elderly person. You cannot afford to lose such people for any length of time, especially when you bear in mind that the average length of caregiving time is not a few weeks; it is 6.3 years.

My company provides elder care crisis and planning services to the elderly and their families, and I don't know of one Canadian employer that could be called a model for how to address the impact of elder care on the workforce. This is not a problem that is going away. In fact, based on demographic projections in Canada, we are only now starting to see the impact.

Let us not forget that we are living longer and have an aging population, with smaller families and fewer to share the load, and we are currently in a dementia epidemic that we, as a country, are not prepared for.

This means the director of sales may not be thinking about a leave of absence; she may have no choice but to take early retirement. Thus, elder care needs to be addressed as part of your risk-management profile. Here are a few things CEOs should consider:

  • Put in place a company program to educate senior management and leaders throughout the organization about elder care and why it should be a strategic business priority.
  • Extend that education to the whole work force so all employees learn the facts about caregiving (i.e., hours, costs, whom to call).
  • Implement a policy of flex hours or opportunities to work remotely to help employees who have elder care responsibilities.
  • Consider tying management performance, bonuses and pay to the implementation of sound elder care policies that address today’s workplace reality.

When it comes to elder care and caregiving, it is not a question of if employers will be involved, but when. Business leaders can either be proactive and address these issues or be reactive and watch the impact on productivity and costs. It's your choice.

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