The Fear is Real - Aging Workers Caring for a Family Member

Caring for an aging or ill family member is probably the scariest part of aging in the workplace. It brings our value into focus as it pertains to a company. Regardless of institutional knowledge, life experience, perfectly honed soft skills and reliability on the job, a life event that means one must split their time between work and caregivng comes with a low slow burn of anxiety. 

 

 

I'm blessed to be part of a family that bands together and helps each other. Currently, my sister and I are juggling full time caregiving with work. It's a bit easier for me since my work is contract v. her full time position with a company she's been with for over 25 years. I tell myself the universe had a plan for me. I got laid off a few weeks before our mother fell and broke her shoulder. I'm not sure the current leadership of my former company would have been empathetic to my situation. I have a feeling I would have been let go for a “performance issue” due to my wonky and less present schedule. 

My sister lives in low key fear of how her situation could affect her job. She cares for her husband. She's 60 years old. She can't afford to lose their health insurance, but she also knows the adjusted schedule for caregiving could put her at the top of a layoff hit list. This is the kind of stress and overwork (due to caregiving and working at the same time), that destroys a person's health and well being. Our society is not set up for reality. Especially for older workers.

Many companies offer some kind of supplemental insurance, like AFLAC, that is meant to address issues like caregiving due to illness and accidents. To assume every worker can afford another payroll deduction is naive. Then what?

As the Boomers and Xers fill up our population and take over as the biggest age demographic, we have to seriously address a reality that is right in our faces. How to care for the aging and how to care for the working caregiver. Not every human possesses the kind of compassion and patience to handle the journey through aging, so what's the answer?

Retire at 62 with a third of your total Social Security benefit? Probably not.
Low cost caregiving assistance? You'll likely get what you paid for, and that is scary.
A rethinking of productivity in the workplace? This one has promise.

How many hours in an eight hour work day are productive hours? I guarantee you it's not all 8. Two hours of correspondence, two hours of deep focus, and then busy work and meetings. And let's be honest, most people spend some amount of time simply socializing or surfing. Therefore, knowledge workers shouldn't be in fear for their jobs if they are taking care of a family member. Leadership shouldn't use reduced work hours as an excuse to call out performance. If the work is done, and done well, leave it be.

The challenge is with the hourly worker demographic. Those who are required to be in one place for 8 hours or more. Their only option seems to be reduced hours. And often, it's these workers who are the lowest paid in society. Society has not problem looking away from this problem. I don't have a solution, but I definitely think about the problem! More people should. 

FMLA is in place as a form of “job insurance", but it doesn't guarantee pay for time spent caring for a family member, and it doesn't even guarantee you'll have the same position when you return to work. 

Workers are disposable. Being at the center of a caregiver crisis is dangerous. We really should be finding a solution to the one thing AI will never truly have. Compassion. That's on us. 

 

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