An Ageing Population (Part 4)
Stephen Burke of United for All Ages and Good Care Guide highlights the significance of an ageing population on workforces
My Family Care asks Stephen Burke: Research shows that we are part of an ageing population. How is this influencing work, life and family balances? What pressures does it create and what advantages can be taken from the shift?
Work-life balance in an ageing society
The focus of work-life balance over the last twenty years has been mainly on supporting parents to work and care for their children. Much has been achieved to enable women to return to work after maternity leave and pursue their careers.
The biggest challenge over the next twenty years will be to complement this advance by addressing the needs of staff as our population ages.
We all know that we are living longer. But...
What are the consequences for employers and employees?
The first is that we need to continue to support parents who work. Research shows that women in particular who maintain their career while having children do better work-wise across their life course as well as build up better pension provision.
Secondly employers need to be much more aware of the implications of an ageing population.
- How many of their staff have care responsibilities for an older person or disabled adult?
- What does that mean for them?
- What support do they need to carry on working while fulfilling their care responsibilities?
An audit is crucial.
Many carers are currently forced to give up their job in their 40s, 50s or 60s because they find it impossible to work and care. But an understanding employer, access to advice and information, and flexible working would all help. What support do employees want? Again an audit is crucial.
Contributing to the workplace
Employers increasingly will not want to lose the skills, knowledge and experience of older staff. How can those employees carry on working in their 60s and 70s? And what can they contribute to the workplace?
Organisations like the Age and Employment Network (TAEN) provide a lot of evidence about the benefits of employing older workers. Their loyalty, productivity and know-how are all invaluable. Older workers can also support younger workers progress in their career through mentoring and apprenticeships for example.
More staff have care responsibilities
Allowing all staff to work flexibly would certainly benefit older staff, whether or not they have care responsibilities. But employers need to recognise that more and more staff will be looking after an older relative, friend or neighbour.
Many of these staff may not openly discuss caring in the workplace for a range of reasons. Caring for an older person can be much more difficult and demanding than childcare. Workers caring for an aged parent for example may actually live hundreds of miles away. An emergency such as a fall or a stroke might mean leaving work immediately for an unknown period. Arranging care and support can be tricky. And there are difficult and demanding emotions associated with care and the end of life.
At the same time our care system is helping fewer older people despite our ageing population. Council care budgets are continually being squeezed and many families are left to sort things out themselves. They have to buy their own care, rely on a family carer or struggle on their own.
Getting specialist advice early
What is critical is that families get the best advice as early as possible. Employers can help signpost staff to care advice service provided by charities like Independent Age and First Stop Care Advice. Older people and their families should also get specialist financial advice on the best way to pay for care and how to make the most of their resources - see the Paying for Care website.
Forthcoming changes to the funding of care will mean that accessing financial advice will be even more important. Advice on new technology and practical support to help older people to stay in their own home is also important.
Business opportunities for employers
Finally an ageing society represents all sorts of business opportunities for employers. Workers will want to continue working longer. Older consumers will have more money. And older people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s will have much to contribute.
So a wise employer will be planning ahead for an ageing population and helping their staff to do likewise. Some of the solutions may not even exist. For example why shouldn't tax breaks on childcare vouchers be extended to those with adult care responsibilities?
Employers for Carers is a network of employers who are already ahead of the game. What is important in tough times is that we all share ideas and best practice if we are to meet the challenges of an ageing society in the coming decades.