How Alzheimer's Will Change Your Workplace

With workers taking care of aging spouses and parents, firms are scrambling to help lighten the load.

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"We're starting to see an increase in companies offering long-term care insurance, which is another means to obtain some sort of elder care type of benefit," he says, adding that some companies subsidize that coverage.

Still, relatively few workplaces offer programs specifically directed at assisting with elder care. Indeed, workplace norms are skewed slightly more toward accommodating workers with children. According a 2012 survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, a large array of family-friendly benefits are specifically directed at offspring—nearly one-third of employers allow workers to bring a child to work in an emergency, for example, and many others offer adoption assistance and lactation rooms. While some of these may not translate easily to elder care, there is a clear preference toward children. Seventeen percent of workplaces offer child care referral services, compared to 10 percent that do the same for elder care.

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Similarly, 18 percent of workplaces offer parental leave above federal FMLA leave guidelines, compared to just 10 percent who offer additional elder care leave.

If some workers need these perks to keep working, why don't more businesses provide them? One reason is that for many businesses, the benefits may not outweigh the costs, especially in a still-recovering economy.

"The countervailing force is just the profit pressure," says Barrington. "Officially this recession ended a while ago, but these pressures on employers to reduce labor costs are still there."

With unemployment so high, the labor market currently favors employers—in many fields, they don't need to work as hard to entice workers in their doors.

Still, for firms that both have the means and the need to keep skilled workers around, the pressure is on to provide elder care options. Being an employer that attracts the top talent will increasingly mean helping workers care for their full families, not just their kids, says Barrington.

"The demographics are making this a bigger issue that employers will need to compete on in terms of being the best employer in X class," she says. That "X class" in question might be working women, for example, who tend to take on a majority of family care responsibilities, says Barrington. And that "X class" might include older workers increasingly need to care for relatives and each other.

In addition, Stringfield says that helping employees care for their families need not be prohibitively expensive for employers. "Research and referral services for backup child care and adult care are very inexpensive [at Ernst & Young], approximately 25 cents per month per employee for web-based research and referral services, and about double that (50 cents) for telephonic research and referral services," she writes in an email to U.S. News. She adds that the company spent arund $196,000 in family care expenses in fiscal year 2011, 180 percent higher than the prior year.

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Still, while many workers may not see subsidized elder care in their benefits packages anytime soon, workplaces can accommodate an aging population in lower-cost ways. Even referring employees to trusted caregivers can alleviate a lot of headaches, says one expert.

"Part of the burden of caregiving is that you are not only the caregiver but you are also needing to run around and find resources and negotiate with insurance organizations," says Alan King, president of Workplace Options, a company that helps employers promote work-life balance.

In addition, says SHRM's Elliott, employers can simply better educate their workers about their options. Nearly three-quarters of workplaces offer dependent care flex spending accounts, but many people don't realize that they can use those accounts for caring for older relatives, in addition to childcare. He adds that employee assistance programs, which often are advertised as a way of helping employees seek counseling for themselves, often also can help them find elder care options. Likewise, Elliott says, many people do not know that the Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers to take unpaid leave for elder relatives, not just children.