How Providing Eldercare Affects Your Job Security

Employees providing eldercare say they have lower job security and less access to flexible work options than workers caring for children

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When you need to care for a child with the flu or help your mother get back on her feet after a stroke, sometimes it is necessary to ask for a little flexibility in the hours you work. But employees feel more comfortable asking for and taking time off to care for children than for older relatives, a new study found.

Employees providing eldercare say they have significantly less access to the flexible work options needed to fulfill their work and personal needs, compared to employees caring for a child under age 18 and workers not providing dependent care, according to a survey of more than 2,200 employees ages 17 to 81 by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. That’s because many flexible schedules were designed with the parents of young children in mind, according to Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, the study principal and head of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. “Many of those polices were developed in the late 80s and 90s in reaction to the increase in the number of women, particularly women with young children, in the workforce.” Eldercare doesn’t always conveniently fit into the same mold.

Employees providing eldercare also perceived significantly lower job security compared to workers with children, the Sloan study found. “People who are caring for children, with the exception of people with special need kids, you can kind of anticipate over time what their needs will be at age 2 or 4 or 7. With eldercare it’s more unpredictable,” says Pitt-Catsouphes. “After eldercare begins it may plateau, but it is often the case that there are these episodes that happen with eldercare and it does become more challenging and more demanding. It is less likely that it will be easier over time.” Sometimes employees voluntarily leave the workforce because of the demands of eldercare giving, which can make it difficult for them to finance their own retirement.

Workers in the stressful position of having to provide both eldercare and childcare at the same time, however, did not perceive as much job insecurity or report as much difficulty utilizing a flexible work schedule as the people providing eldercare only. Pitt-Catsouphes says this may be because parents often have more support from the community because they make friends with other parents when they are involved with their children’s activities. “You have this community-based support group based around your kid’s friends,” she says. It’s uncommon to have similar communities form around eldercare facilities with the possible exception of adult day care. “People sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about eldercare,” says Pitt-Catsouphes. “And people may feel more vulnerable if they need to take 2 weeks off to move their mother from a house into assisted living.”

Tell us, have you had trouble balancing work with eldercare?