woman helping elderly woman

Elder care benefits: a growing need for the U.S. workforce

As employees' parents and family members grow older, many workers take on the role of caregiver. More than 1 in 6 Americans working full-time or part-time report assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member, relative or friend. Of this group, nearly half report feeling they have no choice about taking on these responsibilities. That is why many struggle in silence, choosing not to share their situation with employers out of fear for the impact on their career or a desire for privacy.

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, “family leave for seriously ill family members” is required by law, but it offers unpaid job protection and the definition of a family member is restricted to spouse, child or parent. This has led to a rise in demand for elder care benefits, and there are a variety of options businesses can offer.

Elder care offerings

Many employers currently offer an employee assistance program (EAP) which provides employees and household members with educational and referral services for elder care. These services often include free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services. In addition, EAPs address a broad body of mental and emotional well-being issues, such as alcohol and substance abuse, stress, grief, family problems, and psychological disorders.

To complement EAPs, employers also have other options. For instance, Dependent Care Assistance Plans (DCAP), commonly referred to as the “day care benefit,” allow employees to set aside tax-free dollars for qualified elder care. While DCAPs do not cover the entire cost of elder care, they can provide up to $5,000 per calendar year in assistance and reduce employees' federal tax burden.

Backup elder care benefits, like backup child care, can also be incredibly useful to employees. Known as respite care, this benefit provides short-term relief for primary caregivers and can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days. While only 7 percent of employers currently offer respite care, this benefit's popularity is on the rise.

New vendors are also entering the marketplace in response to the needs of employees who are also caregivers for older relatives. This support can range from helping employees navigate the healthcare system to finding providers or facilities, and providing objective guidance during difficult decision-making processes.

Perks that help

Caregiving has shown to reduce employee work productivity by 18.5 percent and increase the likelihood of employees leaving the workplace. Offering care benefits can help not only with retention and efficiency but with businesses' bottom line too. A study by the Center for American Progress found that turnover costs are often estimated to be 100 percent to 300 percent of the base salary of the replaced employee.

By offering caregiving as part of your benefits package, your company may be able to avoid those losses through the extension of additional offerings to help ease the burden. These include flexible work hours and paid family leave. While several states have passed paid family leave laws, and many more pending, an increasing number of employers are looking to stay ahead of the curve by offering paid family benefits. This allows employees to take time away from work to care for family members, including elderly relatives or those with special needs or disabilities, without having to go unpaid or deplete their PTO.

As the demand for these benefits continues to grow, employers are recognizing the diverse needs of their workforce and are crafting programs that contain benefits and perks to help at all stages of life.

Assess and broadcast your benefits

When crafting your benefits package, ask and survey current and potential employees about what would be of most value. The use of these benefits will deliver the best ROI for all parties. Benchmarking against competitors is also crucial to help with the retention and recruitment of top talent.

And do not forget to communicate what you are already offering. According to the International Employee Assistance Professionals Association, over 75 percent of companies offer EAPs, and that number goes up to 97 percent for companies with more than 5,000 employees. Yet, a little less than 7 percent of employees take advantage of these programs, either because they feel they are too hard to navigate, do not want to divulge personal information, or simply because they are not aware that the program exists. Rebranding or repackaging of your current offerings can have a great impact.

In constructing your plan, always consider your financial limits and company culture and values, as well. The goal should be to make a positive impact on the greatest number of employees without impacting the fiscal health of the business.

Assisting your employees with the care of their loved ones' as they grow older is not easy. By offering comprehensive elder care benefits, companies can demonstrate empathy during these tough times and ultimately mitigate business impact.

This article was written by Emily Payne from BenefitsPro and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

Voya has teamed up with Wellthy, a health care concierge service focused on helping families care for loved ones with complex, chronic or ongoing care needs (for example, a parent with dementia, child with autism, spouse with Parkinson’s).  Wellthy provides support and resources to help working caregivers save time, money and stress. Voya’s Retirement and Employee Benefits businesses offer Wellthy’s services to its current and prospective workplace clients as an added benefit they can provide to their employees.