According to the World Health Organization, around 55 million people worldwide are estimated to be living with dementia as of September 2021.
With the global population ageing, this figure is expected to more than double within the next three decades. Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death worldwide and the second in high income countries including the US, UK and much of the Western world. It is therefore something that has touched, or will touch, many lives.
Dementia affects not only the person suffering from it, but also their carers, family, friends, and society. It can impact physically, psychologically, socially, economically and financially and the effect can be profound.
While many carers find it rewarding to look after dementia sufferers, it requires time, patience and flexibility and understanding. More so, with so many caregivers of working age, many of them are trying to juggle their careers as well as their home lives and their care giving responsibilities.
This primarily hits women and older workers, with a recent UK study reporting that one in four working women and one in eight working men over 50 having caring responsibilities.
The need to care for someone with dementia, often an elderly parent, frequently comes at the peak of an individual’s career, when many are often also juggling the conflicting needs of school age children.
This in turn can have a crucial impact on workforce retention and recruitment. While many companies offer support and incentives to help young families, there is still felt to be a stigma around elderly care and dementia, leading to many employees feeling unable to vocalise their difficulties in the workplace. This results in the needs of carers in the workplace not being met.
Here’s some tips for how HR teams and managers can help support their caregiving workforce:
Offer flexible or remote working options, where possible, to allow a carer to better juggle their caregiving and employment responsibilities. Understand that they might need to make phone calls or arrange appointments during working hours or that early starts, or later finishes might work better with responsibilities at home.
Provide accessible signposting and guidance information in relation to how employees can obtain help and support.
Offer information (and possible funding) for supportive technologies such as mobility aids, emergency call equipment and independent living supports which may help people to live more independently and help carers remain in the workplace.
Train your wider workforce as to the symptoms and needs of people with dementia, the additional strains that carers might be feeling and how this might effect them at work.
Consider offering emergency (or respite) care for elderly relatives and those suffering with dementia in the same way that you might provide emergency nanny or childcare for those with minor dependents.
Dependent on the size of your organisation, consider setting up a support group or providing a link or mentoring scheme for employees who are also carers, to provide peer-to-peer support and share ideas, experiences, and advice.
Ensure carers are aware of any other benefits that are offered by the company that might help them (employee assistance programs, concierge services, talk therapy, stress management, resilience training etc).
More needs to be done to make supporting caregivers an integral part of the workplace.
Tackling this crucial and growing conundrum is not only about protecting the welfare of your valued employees, but has key business benefits too.
Taking these steps to support your employees and allow them to juggle their home and work lives will result in increased retention rates, better employee engagement and an enhanced reputation as a business, leading in turn to ease of recruitment and a higher calibre of applicants.
“Leave your problems at home” may have been a historical mantra for the business environment but the new generation of leaders recognise the real(and costly) impact of personal life events on employee productivity, performance and preservation and strive to address this.