Over the last many months, I’ve had conversations with several people about their need to act as caregivers. The stories have been about recent diagnoses as well as longer-term ongoing care needs and have included physical and cognitive health. The concerns expressed varied and there was commonality in the concerns being expressed including:
- day to day challenges associated with caring for another person,
- fear about the impact on their work, lifestyle and regular routines and their own physical and mental health, and
- planning for the future.
I know many of these conversations occur because of my sharing my own experience in supporting dad, when Mom’s Alzheimer’s progressed to the point where he could no longer manage the care on his own, his own cancer diagnosis, and then caring for Mom after Dad’s death.
The conversations also occur because of my Human Resource consulting work. Employees tell me about their worries about the implications of their caregiving responsibilities – losing their job, the financial implications of a switch to part-time work and/or taking unpaid time off work, the irritation of their co-workers about their absences, and their own emotional and physical exhaustion.
Employers – some of which are clients – talk to me about issues with productivity, absenteeism, sick time, duty to accommodate costs and the morale of the employees who must pick up the work of others, which often adds to their already heavy workloads. The estimated lost productivity cost to employers is $1.3 billion per year.
My own experience coupled with what I hear from others set me on a path of learning about caregiving and the people doing it – caregivers/carers.
Carers are unpaid and are usually family and friends, but not always. The latest data available is that about 35% of today’s workforce are functioning as caregivers. It will rise quickly between now and 2030 when the majority of the 9.5 million baby boomers will be 70 years of age and older. The increase in people needing caregiving has significant implications for the health care system, employers, and employees.
The current estimated value of unpaid care giving in Canada is $97.1 billion dollars of care work per year. It would take an additional 2.8 million full-time paid caregivers to replace the unpaid caregivers. The cost of caregiving for the unpaid carers is an unknown. It includes their lost wages, expenses for things like their travel, and the costs they bear for the individual(s) they are caring for like food, paramedical supports and non-prescription medications, among other things.
Growth in the need for caregiving and carers is a complex issue that needs more attention and thought by government, health care and related service organizations, business organizations and the people impacted by this growing concern.
The federal and most provincial governments have been preparing for this increased need for more than a decade. Nearly every jurisdiction in Canada has unpaid job protected leaves for a variety of carer needs. Many of those leaves are partially supported by Employment Insurance benefits. Governments can and need to do more by:
- adding a specific carers/caregiving leave program that addresses time off for irregular time periods and,
- providing caregiving wage subsidies for employers and/or employees.
Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) can help by:
- improving the caregiver tax credit to include care beyond necessities of food, shelter, and clothing and,
- expanding the definition of carer/caregiver to include Individuals functioning as Personal Directive Agents, Powers of Attorney and Executors – these roles carry responsibilities with significant time, psychological, emotional, and physical demands which impact not only the caregivers, but their families, their employers, and their co-workers.
Industry organizations, unions, and interest groups (for example health care, human rights, psychological safety at work, aging, quality of life, DEI) can lobby governments for improvements to job protected leaves, wage subsidies and tax breaks.
Employers have a significant role to play by:
- Providing workplace flexibility including work location, work hours, integration of work and life responsibilities, and the tools required to support that flexibility.
- Ensuring efficient work processes.
- Providing employee training that includes information about caregiving and how the organization supports it.
- Adding a benefits service or services that provide caregiver education, information, and advisory services to their benefits programs.
And last but certainly not least , Employees have the ability to influence workplace change by discussing their caregiving responsibilities with their employer and co-workers, requesting assistance and accommodation for their needs, being creative and flexible in seeking solutions for the conflicts that inevitably arise, asking for benefits that provide support for carer/caregiving, and of course using social media to raise the profile of caregiving and the importance of addressing the work/life balancing issues.
A recent Alzheimer’s Society of Canada report indicated people with the disease will almost double from 569,600 in 2020 to 955,900 in 2030. Every one of those people will need caregivers. In the early stages, one person can provide the care needed. As the disease progresses it goes from one carer to three carers, because the care is required 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That is about half a million employees functioning as carers today and increasing rapidly over the next 7 years. And that is only dementia caregiving.
 Age Well, Research on Aging Policies and Practices. University of Alberta and University of Manitoba. app.ualberta.ca