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5 Questions for Laurel Kennedy Equality in Caregiving

September 23, 2010
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Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Retention, Featured Article, Compensation, Benefits
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Laurel Kennedy’s new book, The Daughter Trap, takes a critical look at society’s reliance on adult daughters to provide elder care. She urges women to take the lead in demanding a new division of caregiving labor. Kennedy recently spoke to Workforce Management contributor Beth Baker.

Workforce Management: Your book is a rallying cry for women caregivers. Surveys show that 40 percent of caregivers are men. Why do you see this as a women’s issue?

Laurel Kennedy: Most of the hands-on, arduous, physically grueling aspects of caregiving are handled by women. My message is, you don’t have to do it alone. You have siblings, a spouse, children, you can create your own community of care—but you also need a big assist from your employer. There is a lifetime opportunity cost to caregivers of $659,000—what they forfeit in terms of fewer workdays, forgone pension and issues like that. Caregiving does obviously touch men. By 2013, more than half of all employees will have some elder care issues. That is pretty significant for anyone involved in human resource management.

WM: You say companies are oblivious to this issue. But employees don’t always take advantage of elder care benefits that do exist. Why?

Kennedy: Caregivers do not self identify because of fear of repercussion. They are right to fear. A Society for Human Resource Management study found that 45 percent of HR managers said elder care can inhibit an employee’s advancement. You have to fundamentally change the way people perceive elder care and whether they have the right to be recognized for that contribution.

WM: What do caregiving employees want?

Kennedy: We interviewed 200 caregiving daughters. They wanted three things, and they are so simple. The first is more flexible working hours. A lot of times, this was left up to the supervisor. Maybe what we need is enlightenment for first-line supervisors. The second was emergency backup care. If you have a senior with dementia or a physically debilitating issue, it’s very difficult to find someone to take that load on a one-time basis. Employers could negotiate a national rate with home-care agencies, to make that available. The third thing would be access to a geriatric case manager. One benefits provider [Ceridian] thought that could be done for $2 to $5 per employee per year.

WM: What else can businesses do?

Kennedy: One thing companies have tried is affinity groups. There are affinity groups for ethnicities, by gender. It would be great to have affinity groups for people caring for seniors. There are so many tips you only know by doing. You could have elder-track jobs that people opt into if they realize they’re going to have a chronic ongoing situation. It would be the career lattice concept that Deloitte has. The idea being that without forfeiting forward progression opportunities, if you chose to move laterally, no one would think less of you. That is a perfect concept for people involved in elder care.

WM: You also say individuals need to plan better for their own needs as they age. Is there a role for employers to play?

Kennedy: I would love it if all companies had financial planning as part of their portfolio of benefits. Or if companies provided long-term care insurance as a benefit. I haven’t done the research to see if that is financially feasible, but if they offered even some premium assistance, that would be exceptional.

Workforce Management, September 2010, p. 8 -- Subscribe Now!

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