Much is said and written about the ageing population and the challenges that poses to health and social care systems – but how might it affect the workplace? Emily Perryman reports on why your clients need to start thinking about the broader implications of eldercare
The ageing population is becoming a costly issue that employers can no longer afford to ignore. Although some companies are already exploring how they can meet the health needs of older employees, very few have considered how they can support staff who have to juggle the demands of their job with caring for an elderly relative.
For the first time in history Britain’s over-65s now outnumber people under the age of 16. By 2030 reaching age 90 is expected to become the norm in some parts of the country; while this is good news and reflects improved public health, it means many of us will have complex health needs that require round-the-clock care.
One of the biggest concerns for businesses is how to look after employees suffering from dementia. Almost one in 10 UK companies have already encountered employees with the illness and the number of people with dementia is expected to reach one million by 2021. Researchers recently discovered that people are getting dementia earlier, with those in their late 40s now regularly being diagnosed with the disease.
The growing prevalence of dementia and other age-related diseases will affect employees as sufferers and as carers. A survey by PMI Health Group found that almost 30% of businesses have had to give staff time off to look after relatives with dementia. Separate research by Allianz Global Assistance suggests more than half of adults are worried about the future care needs of elderly relatives, in particular trying to balance care with their work and home demands and the financial implications. A report by The Future Laboratory shows 32% of British workers are exhausted by juggling the pressures of career, family, friends and health.
Claire Ginnelly, managing director of health insurance and protection broker Premier Choice Group, says elderly care is increasingly becoming the responsibility of the family. “The cost of nursing care homes and lack of availability of council-funded nursing homes exacerbates the problem. We all know the public purse is much smaller. Certain areas have been ring-fenced but social care is not necessarily one of them. The Care Act has been amended and new regulations came in April 2015 and, although the act aims to help people get better care, it is fair to say the demand is outstripping the supply,” she says.
Andrew Dixson-Smith, business development director and adviser at care fees advice firm Eldercare, says it’s very difficult for people who are working to care for their relatives and to function productively in their jobs. “I see this being a continuing problem as people are being diagnosed with dementia at an earlier age, say their 50s and 60s. This means that more relatives will still be of a working age and they may be working to their late 60s.
“Those with dementia and living at home are a worry with the risk of wandering, leaving front doors open and leaving appliances on. I have come across daughters that have given up work to look after mum or dad. In a lot of cases the family members are the carers until a move to a care home takes place. This puts a strain on their family life.”
Some employers are trying to support staff with eldercare responsibilities by offering them flexible working. Figures from PMI Health Group suggest 69% of companies offer flexible working to staff who are caring for elderly relatives. Ginnelly says flexible working offers real support and is sometimes enough to ease the pressure.
“If the pressure is off the employee, and the employer is seen to be helping, the company should have a happier employee. This will mean a more engaged and productive employee,” she says.
There are lots of companies, however, who might not realise elderly care is a problem. Many employees don’t want to talk about dementia or feel guilty about asking for time off, with the result that they phone in “sick” instead.
“If someone has a baby with care needs they will probably find others who are in that situation. If they have a relative with dementia who is wandering off it’s a really horrible thing that they don’t necessarily want to share with their colleagues or HR,” says Sue Lewis, marketing manager at Grace Consulting, an independent care adviser.
Ginnelly says employers need to have a good absence management programme which includes return to work interviews so they can find out why employees are off sick. “If employers are aware of this issue they can have constructive conversations with the employees and look at ways of supporting them where possible,” she explains.
Employees have a legal right to take a “reasonable amount of time” off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. There is no set time as it depends on the situation and employers don’t have to pay their staff who do take time off. Employees also have the right to request flexible working, but the request doesn’t have to be granted.
Employers who want to go further than granting flexible working could provide an employee assistance programme or give access to a telephone-based care advice service like Grace Consulting.
Grace Consulting allocates employees their own personal care adviser who listens to their situation and then streamlines them through the care finding process giving tips on what questions they need to ask the NHS and social services and advice on their next steps and options. Employees get advice on selecting the best care provider, respite care, the pros and cons of the various types of care, and short-term care following treatment.
Grace Consulting’s service is available to Benenden and Shepherds Friendly members, via benefits provider Co-operative Flexible Benefits and through OneFamily’s Guaranteed Over 50s Life Cover, among others.
“People who use us go from being highly stressed to being calm, because someone gives them time. We take the crisis off their shoulders and help lower their feelings of guilt and hopelessness,” says Lewis.
Another option is Unum’s recently launched online service called AgeingWorks. Group risk members can use the site to get generic information about elderly care. They can also get tailored guidance by typing in information about their elderly parent. The service helps to alert them to signs of a care need, for example their parent looks less well-dressed or isn’t engaging with their friends. It will also signpost the user to care agencies and suggest articles that the employee can email to their relatives.
“The service has a host of tips and tools which enable the employee to concentrate on doing their job. By providing the service employers are also demonstrating that they care about their employees. There is lots of data which shows employees make a judgement on whether to stay with a company based on how much the company cares about them,” says Andrew Potterton, head of proposition development at Unum.
AgeingWorks also has a “Sleeping Tiger” feature which helps companies identify the cost of lost productivity from working carers taking time off or from employee distraction and worry, thus helping with absence management.
Toni Chalmers-Smith, senior financial adviser at Tees Financial, says employers should also steer people to firms that can advise on care fees, which is often a big cause of stress. “I’ve noticed the issue of eldercare increasing and at some point more employers will have to address it. Then maybe employees would talk about it and if there was signposting to help that would be good,” she says.
Businesses could consider offering employees an insurance option like Yecco Care at Home. Administered by Allianz Global Assistance, it provides assistance and care to an employee’s elderly relative and individual employees following an accident or sudden illness resulting in hospitalisation.
Employees who take out the policy will be able to have a professional carer for up to six weeks, starting from £2.50 per month for two weeks cover. The assistance includes personal care, domestic help, light meal preparation and transport from the hospital following an initial stay. There is an optional Carer Replacement add-on which provides a professional carer for an elderly or vulnerable person should a named family carer become ill.
Mike Blake, compliance director at PMI Health Group, says it would be useful if insurers allowed employees to extend their private medical insurance policy to third parties. “The clever bit would be providing the insurance and care – for example arranging for the professional carer to come in – so it becomes a complete service.
“I don’t think it’s going to happen quickly, but it could develop over the next four to five years as demand gradually increases.”