Lois Bowers headshot

Nobody understands the importance of caregiving more than those working in long-term care communities. If some of those staff members are facing challenges related to elder caregiving responsibilities outside of work, in their personal lives, a new study share steps they and their employers can take to lessen those challenges. Given that recruiting and retaining workers are two of the biggest challenges facing senior living operators, it’s worth listening to what these researchers have to say.

The investigators, from Baylor University, Louisiana State University and the University of Iowa, didn’t study long-term care workers — they analyzed data from 642 workers at a large public university who were informal caregivers for anyone aged 65 or more years, such as parents, spouses or friends. But their findings still are useful for the senior living profession.

Workers with unmet needs for caregiving support, the researchers found, more frequently needed to adjust work hours, move from a full-time to a part-time position or take a leave of absence or even early retirement compared with other employees. Almost three-fourths of the informal caregivers studied had such needs.

Some of the unmet needs, according to lead author Matthew Andersson, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at Baylor, could be met by a workplace program such as eldercare referral or financial counseling, yet the employees either didn’t know about the programs or weren’t taking advantage of them, even when they thought they should be.

“We need to get employers more involved in the reality of this pressing situation,” Andersson said.

Some ways that employers can get more involved, he said:

  • Supervisors, who “shape culture more than they realize” must “model how long-term success involves, first and foremost, taking care of yourself and your family.”
  • “Work teams should be structured so that absences can be taken in stride when family duties are pressing.”
  • Employee training should clearly communicate information about available supports and how to use them.
  • Employees must not be made to feel guilty (by themselves or others in the workplace) about using supports. “It definitely does not mean an employee is not valuable or productive,” Andersson said.

The study, “Strapped for Time or Stressed Out? Predictors of Work Interruption and Unmet Need for Workplace Support Among Informal Elder Caregivers,” was published in the April issue of the Journal of Aging and Health.