Companies turn to eldercare benefits to help workers during COVID-19

While a handful of companies are bolstering programs to help working parents during the pandemic, other employers are looking for ways to help their workforce’s other caregivers—those with aging relatives.

Law firms McDermott Will & Emery and Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale recently added eldercare benefits for their employees through provider Homethrive. Both firm’s employees will have individual access to the provider’s “care guides” who provide personalized coaching and concierge services for aging loved ones who live at home. Care guides work with employees to learn about the loved one, identify opportunities and arrange third-party services and aim to reduce employee stress by helping shoulder the burden of caregiving.

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Eldercare was already a growing point of concern for employees at Chicago-based international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, but the need became acute as a result of the COVID pandemic, explains Alyona Richey, the firm’s director of benefits.

Also see: Crisis shines light on caregiving benefits

“For those who have in-home dependents, there is the obvious challenge of balancing full-time work and full-time caregiving responsibilities. And caregiving outside of the home sometimes presents the challenge of not being able to visit in person and care for loved ones directly. Both of these situations can apply to eldercare,” she says. “It certainly helps to have someone nearby to check on a relative, pay them a visit, or help with daily necessities, such as grocery shopping, while providing time for the caregiver to attend to other demands, or just take a quick break.”

Likewise, Sarah Allen, director of administration and human resources at Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C., says caregiving was a big problem for many of its employees “that was directing their attention on a daily basis.” The firm is now offering the eldercare benefit to all employees across its St. Louis, Chicago, and Southern Illinois offices.

“Some employees can no longer fly to other locations to check on their parents,” Allen says. “Once they have their care coordinator in place for their parents, they have this additional helpful resource and their personal stress is reduced,” she says, adding that the benefit can help seniors and families talk about isolation, need for groceries and services at home and other needs during the pandemic.

Related: How COVID-19 is aggravating the caregiving crisis

Since caregiving has a direct impact on work and productivity, many employers were beginning to zero in on the issue even before the pandemic. Before the onset of COVID-19, approximately 41.8 million Americans said they were struggling to cope with the emotional, physical and financial challenges posed by caring for their aging loved ones, according to a study from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Meanwhile, 61% of working caregivers said helping loved ones has impacted their employment situation, and 53% reported going in late, leaving early, or taking time off to accommodate care. Six percent of caregivers give up working entirely, and another 5% retire early.

But the pandemic has aggravated responsibilities as many caregivers have decided to take their aging parent out of senior living communities due to fears of COVID and have moved them back home.

Data from Genworth found that 18% of respondents unexpectedly had to spend more time providing assistance to a loved one who is either older or in a vulnerable health category in the midst of coronavirus. The average time investment is nine hours per week.

Dave Jacobs, co-founder and co-CEO at Homethrive, says the number of companies signing up for eldercare benefits through Homethrive has tripled since April. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in interest for a caregiving benefit in the past few months as many companies, particularly professional service firms, have accepted the reality that the pandemic has changed the workplace for the foreseeable future.

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“Companies have realized this could have a tremendous impact on employee productivity. Needs such as like medication, groceries, and medical care don’t just happen in off-work hours,” he says. “Eldercare responsibilities can take more than 10 work hours a week from their employees, and they now realize this is an issue that needs to be readily addressed.”

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