By: Donna Lero, Janet Fast, Nora Spinks, Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay
Recent research in Canada and internationally confirms that providing care and support to a family member or close friend with a long-term health condition, disability, or age-related impairments is increasingly common. Statistics Canada estimated that in 2012, nearly half of Canadians (46% or 13 million of us) have been or are caregivers - often to a child with a disability, to a spouse/partner or sibling, or, increasingly to aging parents or other family members. Many of those who provide care are also employed. A combination of public policies, workplace practices, and community supports are needed to help employees manage work and caregiving roles and help employers reduce avoidable workplace costs such as absenteeism and reduced productivity.
Since 2010, CFWW's Donna Lero, Jarislowsky Chair in Families and Work, has been a partner in a suite of research projects designed to study the economic costs that family members experience when providing care to adult/aging family members with a disability or chronic health condition. The Economic Costs of Care projects, led by Professor Janet Fast of the University of Alberta, consists of five studies designed to take a comprehensive look at the impact of caregiving responsibilities and experiences on Canadian workers and workplaces.
Dr. Lero had lead responsibility for a study called: The Availability, Accessibility, and Effectiveness of Workplace Supports for Canadian Caregivers. The purpose of this project was to obtain current Canadian information to assess the extent to which workplaces provide a variety of flexible work arrangements, leave policies, and information and supports that can enable employees to successfully combine paid employment and caregiving for adult or elder family members.
This research study had two components: a) a comprehensive on-line survey of 291 employers and senior HR representatives from across Canada in diverse workplaces, including the public and broader public sector, the private sector, and non-profit/voluntary organizations, and b) 25 semi-structured interviews with managers who had experience supervising employees with adult/elder care responsibilities.
Key findings can be summarized as follows:
Most employers (approximately 70%) are aware that they have current or recent employees with responsibilities for providing care and support to adult or elder family members with chronic health problems. The most common consequences they have observed are employees arriving late, having to leave early, or taking unscheduled days off.
More serious and stressful circumstances are not uncommon, however. Almost 40% of employers in this sample have had an employee take disability or stress leave, in part related to caregiving, and more than one fifth have had an employee quit or take early retirement as a consequence of caregiving.
The needs of employees with adult/elder care responsibilities is still an emerging issue in Canadian workplaces. Half of employers see addressing the needs of caregiving employees as a favour for individuals, while the other half are recognizing it as best addressed as an organizational strategy.
The majority of employers believe that current work-life practices are adequate to meet the needs of most employees; however 58% believe that caregivers of seniors and chronically ill family members require additional policies and workplace practices. Almost half are concerned about the adequacy of community services such as home care and support for caregivers.
Interviews with managers confirmed that many of the employees that have adult/elder care challenges are long-term, valuable employees, sometimes with unique roles in their organizations.
Despite the organizational challenges adult and elder care present, most managers are sympathetic and recognize that the need for public policies, flexible workplace solutions and community supports will only increase over time.
Dr. Lero's partners in this study were Janet Fast (University of Alberta), Nora Spinks (Vanier Institute of the Family), and Diane-Gabrielle Tremblay (Université du Québec à Montréal).