Elder care responsibilities hurt worker productivity, well-being

March 14, 2001

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Employees who are caregivers for elder dependents report lower work performance than those employees whose dependents are children, a new study has found.

Work performance and well-being were most adversely affected for employees in a situation in which who were caregivers for an elder dependent, took care of the adult at home, and felt they couldn't share their concerns with co-workers or family, the findings showed.

While many studies have examined the impact of child care on workers, few have considered elder care, and none have compared how the two caregiving situations differ in their effects on employees, Noe said.

Noe conducted the study with Ellen Ernst Kossek of Michigan State University and Jason Colquitt of the University of Florida. Their results appear in the current issue of the Academy of Management Journal.

The research studied 490 employees of a Midwestern university who had as dependents either children or elders - such as an elderly or disabled parent. Participants completed a survey that examined their caregiving situation, their work climate concerning caregiving duties, their family climate concerning work duties, family and work performance, and well-being.

Overall, the results showed that employees who had an elder dependent showed lower well being and lower work and family performance - particularly when they took care of the adult at home, rather than at a nursing home or through another arrangement.

"Taking care of an aging parent is always difficult, but it is even more difficult for employees who have to care for their parent in their own home," Noe said. "It essentially means that employees have a second shift of work when they get home."

Workers with children at home also face additional work, Noe said, but this study suggests that elder care is more difficult for workers to cope with. Workers with elder dependents reported more symptoms of anxiety, irritability, depression and physical illness than those with child dependents. In addition, workers with elder care responsibilities at home were less likely than others to say their performance at work or at home was outstanding or exceptional.

But the study also showed that work climate and family climate both played a strong role in how well employees coped with their caregiving responsibilities.

Specifically, workers reported higher levels of well-being and performance when they felt they could share their concerns and problems with both their co-workers and family members.

"When employees feel they can discuss their caregiving concerns at work, it seems to relieve their stress and make them more effective on the job," Noe said. While many companies have programs to help workers with caregiving issues, workers sometimes feel subtly discouraged from taking advantage of these opportunities.

"The immediate manager really sets the tone as far as sharing concerns," Noe said. "Managers can sometimes make employees feel as if they aren't dedicated enough to their careers if they take advantage of programs, such as flex-time, that could help them deal with their role as caregivers."

When workers can discuss their caregiving problems openly, they may learn how their co-workers have successfully dealt with various problems, or they may learn of programs that could help them better manage their caregiving responsibilities, he said.

"The bottom line in our study is that employees felt more productive when they could share concerns freely," Noe said.

But it's not just sharing at work that is important. Results showed employees had higher levels of well-being and performance when they could discuss their work-related concerns with family members. "Elder care is not just a family problem and it is not just a work problem," Noe said. "It's both, and people cope better if they can share their concerns both at home and at work."

As expected, caregivers also reported more problems if they said that their job required them to sacrifice time with their family, or if family responsibilities required them to spend less time at work.

"People who felt they had to make sacrifices - either for their job or for their family - often felt too exhausted to do everything they wanted to accomplish," Noe said. "In addition, they were more likely to feel depressed and anxious."

Noe said the results of this study suggest that more work needs to be done to examine the effects of elder care on employees.

"While there has been a lot of attention given to child care, our results show that elder care also deserves more attention because of its potentially damaging impacts on employees," he said.
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, (614) 292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

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