Manuel’s mother is dependent and he and his sister have to take turns taking care of her. They have to rely on outside help because they both work. It’s a complicated situation for both of them, especially because they feel that there’s not enough talk about reconciling family and care for the elderly in organisations.
What will I read about in this article?
- The reality of an ageing society
- How to facilitate the work-life balance for elderly care
The reality of an ageing society
The recent National Institute of Statistics report on demographic prospects estimates that in just 15 years’ time (in 2037) the largest group will be adults aged 55 to 64. And 26% of Spaniards will be over 65. Globally, the trend is similar. In 2050, 1 in 6 people will be over 65, while in 2019 this figure was 1 in 11 people.
This intense demographic change means that an increasing number of employees provide (or will provide) care for an elderly relative on a more or less regular basis. According to the state organisation for elderly and family members, Solidaridad Intergeneracional, family conciliation has shifted from maternity to care for the elderly among public employees . Regular visits to the doctor, unexpected hospitalisations, relatively constant accompaniment in critical situations… Our elders need us.
“In 2050, 1 in 6 people will be over 65, while this figure in 2019 was 1 in 11 people.”
Although the literature is very poor in this field, studies indicate that employees who have elder care demands are much less supported and visible than employees with dependent children.
In short, it’s a growing group with a growing problem, with very little media and legislative focus.
Work-life balance continues to attract the attention of many people, and refers to the possibility of having a certain amount of autonomy to meet work and family demands in the way one considers most appropriate. In fact, according to the latest Randstad report, among the most relevant factors at work, conciliation is only 3 points behind salary (65% work-life balance vs. 68% salary).
“Work-life balance is the possibility of having a certain amount of autonomy to be able to meet work and family demands in the way one considers most appropriate”.
However, the problem with work-family reconciliation, as it is understood today, is that it’s heavily biased towards parents with dependent children. Most policies and programmes are aimed at this group. However, when it comes to reconciling work and family life by caring for the elderly, the conversation becomes muddier and more imprecise.
How should organisations facilitate work-life balance policies for the care of the elderly
In organisations, it is much more accepted to use one’s own flexibility policies to care for a younger child (accompanying them to the doctor or attending an end-of-year event), than to use the policies to care for an older child (accompanying them to a doctor’s appointment, or taking a morning off to spend the day in hospital). It’s therefore time to work in order to support employees who want to take time off to care for their elders.
We outline some preliminary ideas in the light of the few empirical articles that exist:
To understand that support for employees with elderly dependents is another form of responsible family support. Managers need to be made aware that the existence of employees with elderly dependents is and will become an increasingly common reality in the domestic family organisation, and that they have particular needs for work-life balance. A recent study found that when managers support employees with elderly dependents, their health improves, as does their satisfaction with work-family balance.
Provide training for supervisors. A study with 100 employees confirmed that when people with older dependents perceive organisational support, their stress levels decrease. This type of organisational support is often explained by emotional support (listening) and instrumental support (concrete solutions) from the supervisor. It is therefore advisable to train the supervisor on how to support employees with these needs.
* Emphasise the importance of personal satisfaction with the work-life balance related to caring for the elderly. In a study with 165 employees, it was shown that the relationship between caregiving tasks, mental health problems and low productivity in the organisation was broken when the employee was satisfied with the caregiving tasks he or she performed.
According to the authors themselves, one possibility is to offer advice, service and activities that give meaning to caregiving tasks, and thus increase satisfaction. Some programmes, for example, could focus on the importance of fostering individual competencies, discussing certain illnesses or disabilities, as well as offering sessions on how to manage high caregiving demands effectively.
* Open spaces for dialogue and days of reflection. All employees, as people, are multi-faceted individuals with different roles that change throughout their lives. It would be a good idea, in order to make the group with dependent or vulnerable seniors more visible, to open up spaces and days of reflection to openly discuss the perceptions, feelings and needs of those who find themselves in this situation.
* Communicate, in an uncomplicated way, that family conciliation policies are also for the care of the elderly. At certain points in time, and in order to reverse some inertia, it’s essential to specify that work-life balance measures and flexibility programmes are not only for parents with dependent children, but also for employees with other family needs, such as those with elderly dependents or in situations of vulnerability.
* Promote support groups. Faced with an invisible and institutionally under-supported group, it could be interesting to create sustenance groups where some employees who have experienced elder care before can assist employees who are recently experiencing similar situations.
The conciliation of family and care for the elderly will be an increasingly present reality in organisations as the population ages. Facilitating the policies and measures that make it possible will be a critical point in improving the organisational culture of companies and in caring for the well-being of workers.
- Rofcanin, Y., Las Heras, M., Escribano, P. I., & Stanko, T. (2020). FSSBs and elderly care: Exploring the role of organizational context on employees’ overall health and work–family balance satisfaction. Journal of Business and Psychology, 35(3), 403-419.
- Zacher, H., & Schulz, H. (2015). Employees’ eldercare demands, strain, and perceived support. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 30, 183–198. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMP-06-2013-0157.
- Zacher, H., Jimmieson, N. L., & Winter, G. (2012). Eldercare demands, mental health, and work performance: the moderating role of satisfaction with eldercare tasks. Journal of occupational health psychology, 17(1), 52–64. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025154