“No One Should Have to Choose Between Caregiving and Work” is the title of an article by Jody Gastfriend, VP of Senior Care Services at Care.com, that appears in this week’s Harvard Business Review Blog. She makes a poignant and passionate argument for greater workplace flexibility in terms of permitted absenteeism and leave. She backs up her argument with a few compelling statistics:
- 65 million Americans provide caregiving services, primarily to elderly
- These caregivers miss an average of 6.6 days of work to provide care
- Such care costs families an average of $5,000 per year
- Women perform the lion’s share of these tasks
Ms. Gastfriend believes no one should be forced into this arrangement and that employers should conform to these demands (that are certain to grow as the Baby Boom cohort places its last crushing need on the country) and get with the program. This will only happen if the workers find their voices and compel the change. One example she used grabbed my attention and illustrates perfectly an intractable dilemma.
“When your cell phone rings and you get that unexpected call, you can’t really hide the fact that Mom’s home health aide didn’t show up. You are going to have to blow off that mandatory management meeting to take her to the doctor instead.” Most workers, male or female, are not in management and do not work in anything approaching a time elastic environment.
The trend in company size is down, not up. Google employs 48,000 employees globally and General Motors employs 219,000 employees globally. But both are outliers in employment size. Let’s take Indiana as an example. The median employer in the Hoosier state has 5 employees. This cohort employs 1.3 million workers. The mode employer has 10 employees; they employ another 2 million. Less than 15% of the workers are employed with a company that has more than 200 employees. Indiana too small for you? Try California with 75,000 employers with 10 or fewer employees and only 13,000 companies with 100 or more employees.
The key dilemma for workplace flexibility lay not in unenlightened HR policies but the forbidding inelasticity of the typical company size and the non-fungible nature of time. Large organizations have the size to be able to spread costs and minimize disruptions (whether they are willing to absorb these is another matter); smaller ones cannot. Add this to antique labor laws from the 1930’s that are both hostile to and irreconcilable with workplace flexibility and you have a recipe for frustration for everyone. The most likely outcome is a moderate fix for a small and privileged (by circumstance) few and little relief for the many. And no menu of employer mandates can alter those hard facts.