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Benefits For Graying Jugglers

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Back in the 1990s, many baby boomers were wondering what on earth they would do with their children while they were working.

The employee benefits industry responded by developing and expanding work-life services programs, to help boomers juggle work and family responsibilities.

Now, work-life services experts say, benefits advisors should help employers update work-life programs and employee assistance programs to meet the needs of boomers who are more likely to be caring for teenagers and aging parents than for small children.

When the 60-something and 50-something rainmakers who keep a company going start calling EAPs with urgent questions about adult daycare or services for checking on parents living in other states, “you want to be able to do something concrete,” says Andrea Sinisi, marketing director at Bensinger, DuPont & Associates Inc., Chicago, an EAP/work-life services firm.

The benefits industry designed EAPs to manage mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. It then came up with work-life programs to give workers assistance with child care and other issues that can put stress in any worker’s life.

In 2005, 54% of employers with 50 or more employees said they offered EAPs, according to the authors of a survey report published by the Families and Work Institute, New York.

A benefits broker may collect only a couple of dollars in commissions per EAP/work-life services program member per year, but a successful EAP/work-life program can help hold down overall health and disability costs and improve morale in ways that may increase worker productivity.

Benefits advisors should make sure employers have solid EAP mental health services, EAP vendors say.

Although an EAP can help employees of all ages deal with stress and depression, it also “can help boomers deal with and manage the feelings and challenges they come across as they age, making them happier, more confident and more productive,” according to Harris, Rothenberg International L.L.C., New York.

Another obvious goal of a benefits advisor should be to help an employer improve services for members of the “Sandwich Generation”–the employees who find themselves caring both for children and aging parents at the same time.

In 2001, 44% of boomers born between 1946 and 1956 were members of the Sandwich Generation, or individuals with living parents and children under age 21, according to AARP, Washington.

About 37% of all individuals providing unpaid care for frail or disabled adults over age 55 have children living in their homes, according to a 2004 AARP survey funded by the MetLife Foundation, New York.

For the boomers in the middle, responding to the need for elder care is often far more painful and disruptive than child care because “it’s happening unexpectedly,” Sinisi says. “It could happen because of an unexpected illness.”

Once more boomers understand the magnitude of the challenges they face; they and their employers may demand work-life program access to employee-paid social workers or “concierge services” that can do the legwork involved with placing loved ones in assisted living communities, nursing homes or other long term care facilities.

For now, Sinisi says, employees are grateful when counselors simply tell them about adult daycare and other resources that might be available in their communities.

“There are so many different types of care,” Sinisi says.

The aging of the boomers also may be driving an increase in use of legal counseling services: Bensinger, DuPont believes the increase may be due, in part, to boomers drawing up wills to protect both dependent children and dependent elders, Sinisi says.

Work-life program providers are starting to respond to another boomer-related trend: the aging of boomers’ children.

Although roughly 10 million working boomers are the parents of teenagers, only 7% of employers have EAP benefits or other benefits and services aimed at parents of teenagers, and only 0.3% have referral services or work-life services aimed at parents of teenagers, according to the 2005 Families and Work Institute survey.

ConnectEdu Inc., Boston, is an example of a company that is trying to profit from the changing nature of boomers’ children. The company sells a Web-based college admissions and financial aid planning benefits package through Hilb, Rogal & Hobbs Company, Glen Allen, Va.

“Moms who researched dependent care options and drove the corporate child care initiatives in the [1980s] are the same parents now driving education-planning benefits,” according to WorkatWork, Scottsdale, Ariz., a professional association for compensation and benefits professionals. “The stakes to make the right choices today are as stressful as daycare options were then.”

In the future, the aging of boomer workers could create demand for new EAP/work-life benefits, such as counseling and referral services for employees who want to telecommute, research retirement communities or use technology to cope with age-related disabilities.

If boomers make good on predictions that they will work past age 65, some may want counseling about the intricacies of coordinating employment-based compensation and benefits with Social Security benefits and other retirement program benefits, work-life experts say.


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