Last Word

Rick Bell

Workforce's Last Word author, Rick Bell.

Caring about the Caregiving Crisis

Caring about the Caregiving Crisis

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friend from overseas recently messaged me about a work-related event at her employer’s innovation center. College students utilize technology as they tackle social causes, and then senior-level executives from her company provide guidance and coaching for their projects.

She described several ventures, including early identification of autism through digital gamified screenings, handling crowd management at a massive religious pilgrimage, and road safety through Internet of Things. “My god, it was inspiring to be there,” she told me.

Caregiving is not the exclusive territory of early age boomers or generation X.

I can only imagine. Considering that her company hosts and sponsors an incubator-like operation rather than merely scratching out a check to a nonprofit organization for young entrepreneurs is worthy of recognition. But more importantly — to me, anyway — is the incubator’s cause: solving social issues.

Supporting causes and not institutions remains a recurring trait among millennials and Generation Z. They also seek transparency and social impact. Smart companies recognize this, and they’re using corporate social responsibility initiatives as a beacon for young, talented, principled workers.

Such employer-employee activism can’t come soon enough. Employees empowered by socially conscious entities are wielding the power to address and perhaps one day remedy all types of social issues affecting the workplace.

Take the crucial role employees play as family caregivers. This is an immense workplace issue with few solutions. My friend mentioned one presentation that focused on engaging and profiling people with dementia through the use of virtual reality. The “restlessness” in the person with dementia wears down the caregiver to the point of exhaustion.

It’s a problem that strikes particularly close to home. My friend said her family is dealing with a similar situation and that she broke down as she listened to the presentation.

“It was good to see that people are working on very real issues,” she said.

She is not alone when it comes to providing aid and comfort to those caring for a sick or elderly family member. This clearly is an issue that crosses international borders as well as social and economic boundaries.

I can easily count 10 people among my circle of friends, family and colleagues who are either directly caring for an aging or sick loved one or are part of the caregiving orbit around that person. I was among that cohort until my mother died in January.

The costs as a caregiver are staggering. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 70 percent of working caregivers report suffering work-related difficulties because of their dual roles. The alliance also reports that 10 million caregivers age 50-plus who care for their parents lose an estimated $3 trillion in wages, pensions, retirement funds and benefits.

Caregiving is not the exclusive territory of early age boomers or Gen Xers. Millennials are helping care for grandparents and even parents. And for those who are caring for elderly family members as well as children — the sandwich generation — their burden is compounded.

But the emotional toll … I can’t begin to count the hours I’ve spent talking to friends and colleagues about the strain of caregiving. So many of us can relate to the frustration and even anger that bubbles up as overwhelming stress sets in. One friend with an elderly parent recently told me, “I felt closed in, like there is no escape. I called the Alzheimer’s Association to get some information and just started bawling.”

You want a true national emergency? We have 10,000 baby boomers retiring daily in the U.S. Caregivers are at the end of their financial and emotional ropes with no clear solution in sight.

Only a concerted effort by employers, employees and border wall-obsessed politicians can ease this crisis. Employers can do their part by implementing reasonable flexible-work schedules, paid sick leave and common-sense family leave policies. Telecommuting can help ease part of the burden. And by all means make sure your employee assistance program puts a priority on caregiver services, and communicate that with your employees.

If millennials and Gen Z are advocates for social reform, let’s also lean on our future leaders to find solutions. Incorporating VR for dementia research is an encouraging signal that advanced technology offers the potential to produce tangible results on social issues like caregiving

Perhaps these younger workers will play a vital new role in caregiving. Indeed they offer support and compassion for those working the front lines caring for elderly relatives. But they also are creating innovative concepts behind the scenes to help solve the caregiving crisis before us.

Caring for an ailing family member is a demanding, emotional burden. Caring for those caregivers who also happen to be our co-workers is a challenge we all should readily accept.


Rick Bell is Workforce‘s editorial director. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.