Trickle down effects of retiring boomers

Elder-care responsibilities will increase stress for working Canadians
By Asha Tomlinson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/04/2003

W

ith all the talk focused on labour shortages because of retiring baby boomers, people sometimes forget about the children who will have to care for them. The large group of retirees will require employers to pay more attention to the elder-care issues a generation of employees will be dealing with, the fifth annual

Aventis Healthcare Survey

indicates.

“The people who are taking care of aging parents are spending more time off work than those who don’t,” said Michel Tremblay, director of public relations at Aventis Pharma, the pharmaceutical company that sponsored the survey, conducted by Ipsos-Reid.

About 32 per cent of Canadians have elder-care responsibilities and spend an average of 23 hours each month dealing with them.

The majority report taking time off work to do things such as drive an elderly family member to the doctor and make arrangements for medical services. Most respondents said they spend about four working hours a month on these duties, about one-third spend between one and five hours per month and 10 per cent spend at least six to 10 working hours on elder care. One in five respondents with a health-benefit plan said they expect to take more time off work in the next two years.

Those between the ages of 35 and 54 are most likely to have these responsibilities (40 per cent), although younger employees are more likely to take time off work to perform elder-care tasks.

The numbers change quite a bit when employees have an elderly parent living with them. Right now, only six per cent cited this situation, but they spend almost three times as many hours on elder care than those who do not live with aging parents. This will increase as 11 per cent said they expect to have an elderly family member living with them in the near future.

Caring for an elder relative is an underlying cause of stress for many employees, said Sharon Blaney, a panel member on Aventis’ advisory board for the survey and occupational health and safety consultant for International Productivity Options based in British Columbia.

“When I worked in the corporate environment, we constantly heard, ‘I can’t come to work because my mother or my father is ill. What do I do about setting up home care?’ or ‘How do I find out what kind of facilities are available?’ A lot of people are saying they’re stressed,” she said. Often, the problem is that they have the stress of caring for a family member, Blaney added.

This may be why 41 per cent of those responsible for an elderly relative said they find balancing work-life problematic and more than half of the participants who take time off work for elder care feel work-life balance is a growing concern.

Most respondents said they would be willing to pay higher premiums if the plan included coverage for elderly family members, but they also said employers could do more to help.

“The results of the survey show that people would like to have some services provided by employers. (They would like to know where) to find help or some are even willing to pay extra to have their parents covered by benefits,” said Tremblay.

Approximately 1,500 adult Canadians with primary employer-sponsored health-benefit plans were polled and the results are accurate 19 times out of 20.

Overall, employees are happy with their employer-sponsored medical benefits. About 65 per cent said their plans meet their needs “extremely well” or “very well.”

Survey participants are more concerned about the individual components of their plan than in previous years. About nine in 10 said the dental plan, short-term and long-term disability and extended health-care benefits are “very important” or “somewhat important.” Almost 60 per cent said they would pay out-of-pocket to maintain existing coverage.

Even with the willingness by employees to pay higher premiums in the face of rising costs, there are limits to how far they will dig into their own pockets, said Barry Noble, another Aventis panel member and the regional pension director with Manulife Financial in Ontario.

“There’s a threshold as to how much more employees would be willing to pay. If you go to them all of a sudden and tell them there’s going to be a 20-per-cent, a 30-per-cent or a 40-per-cent increase in their share of cost, those are big hits. I think we have to be somewhat cautious in interpreting these results,” he said.

Although it seems with the state of health care, Canadian workers are not kidding when they say they’ll foot more of the bill. Shannon Howard from Aldergrove, B.C., an employee polled in the study, said she relies heavily on group health benefits.

“With the public health-care system going the way it is, I cannot imagine being without my benefits. Although the premiums have gone up, I still think they are reasonable. I have two children with braces and I am about to start chemotherapy for cancer, so we use the plan for orthodontics, visits to the dentist twice a year, and now I will need it for my treatment medications.”

Other findings from the report:

•Half of the respondents agreed with the statement, “I experience a great deal of stress at work.” About 56 per cent of Ontarians experience a great deal of stress on the job compared to 41 per cent of those in the Atlantic provinces.

•The perception of control has an effect on stress levels — 43 per cent who consider themselves in control over their work environments reported stress on the job as compared to the 71 per cent who feel they are not in control.

•One-quarter of the respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement, “Workplace stress has been so overwhelming that it has made me physically ill at times.” For every two men who stated this, three women expressed this same belief.

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