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Recognition needed for those caring for elderly

10 September 2004 Public Affairs

Recognition needed for those caring for the elderly

People caring for elderly people are often forgotten in discussions about "family friendly workplaces," say researchers at Victoria University's New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing.

Institute Director, Associate Professor Judith Davey, says discussions about "family-friendly workplaces" and "work-life balance" tends to focus on working parents with young children. The research by Associate Professor Davey and Dr Sally Keeling was carried out with funding from the Department of Labour Future of Work Contestable Research Fund. The report will be posted on the Future of Work website (

"People who work and also care for and support older people currently receive little recognition,” says Associate Professor Davey. “But this concern will grow as the population ages and labour shortages encourage middle-aged people to be fully involved in the workforce. As life expectancy increases many working people have parents in their eighties and nineties, often in need of care and support. How do they balance work and eldercare responsibilities?

"Workplace-based support groups would be helpful. Working carers need better access to information about eldercare services and options. They are aware of gaps in these services and lack of co-ordination. On the employers’ part, policies on eldercare responsibilities among their staff should be seen as an emerging priority."

The research involved the employees of Wellington and Christchurch City Councils, a combined total of 3,800 men and women in a variety of occupations. At least 350 had eldercare responsibilities, about one in ten. Half of these completed questionnaires about their circumstances and concerns and 32 took part in group interviews in the two cities.

Associate Professor Davey says the working carers generally find their employers sympathetic and willing to be flexible with leave provisions.

"However, not all can easily talk about their responsibilities and some find that their managers or workmates do not appreciate their situation. Two-thirds of the working carers had dealt with a crisis affecting the older people in the previous six months and half had had more than one crisis”.

"They juggle work and eldercare by using annual leave, time in lieu, sick or domestic leave and flexitime. Eldercare has a considerable impact on the carers. It reduces their opportunities for rest and relaxation. Where weekends and holidays are devoted to eldercare, especially where travel is involved, employees may return to work feeling tired and unrefreshed."

Most of the care provided was social and emotional support (visiting, taking the older people out), followed by assistance with shopping, transport, housework and gardening, and administrative help such as managing money. Less than half provided personal care, such as washing and dressing. Women carers give higher levels of care, over longer hours and on a more frequent basis than the men.


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