Caregiving is one of three areas positively impacted by access to flexibility; and as baby boomers age, such access will only become more crucial for their millennial children. Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, points out that 34.5 million Americans provided unpaid care to a person over 50 as of 2015, and that number will only grow in coming years. This issue is just one more reason why it's time to usher in a flexible workforce.
As Coughlin writes for Forbes, caregiving isn't just about physical care; it's also about "emotional support, financial management, home maintenance, and logistical coordination." And though caregiving duties can limit productivity and advancement for anyone operating in an inflexible work environment, millennials may be hit the hardest.
For starters, baby boomers had fewer children than their parents, as Coughlin points out, meaning there's a smaller field of potential caregivers. (Perhaps, then, it's not surprising the average millennial caregiver spends an average of 21.2 hours a week assisting a loved one, as we note in our research paper.) Then there are the three D's: debt, distance, and divorce. Many millennials started their careers saddled with extreme student debt, so up until now they've been more inclined to prioritize salary over flexibility when looking for jobs. As for distance, millennials have moved away from their hometowns in greater proportions than prior generations, so logistics have become a bigger caregiving consideration. And finally, a high rate of divorce among baby boomers means millennials often have to manage separate lives for their parents.
All told, millennials who are or will be providing care to the over-50 set face a perfect storm of challenges. "As tens of millions of people take on caregiving responsibilities each year, supporting those caring for our aging population has become one of the most pressing financial issues of our lifetime," Lorna Sabbia, head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, tells Coughlin.
To surmount these challenges, Coughlin says we must "create new ways to provide care within the context of tomorrow's millennial caregiver," and doing so "will most assuredly mean developing a wide range of innovations that include affordable care technologies, high touch services, caregiver-friendly and flexible workplaces, financing options, etc."
According to our research, only about half of the millennials who need flexibility—caregivers or otherwise—can actually access it. And that's one of the reasons why we developed our people analytics software—to provide companies with the data necessary to create policies that respond to actual employee needs. When employers can attract and retain top talent, and when employees can make their personal responsibilities compatible with their professional ones, everyone wins.