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Family Matters Affect Business Routines
by Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro

Our Holiday Season was subdued this year by the loss of my mother-in-law in mid-December. It was a sad ending to a yearlong struggle with cancer and emphysema that left our family exhausted. Cared for primarily by her daughter and other family members, the strain of the situation affected our health, our work, our finances, and emotions.

By Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law needed round the clock care. Attempting to provide this at home, family members flexed their schedules, left work early, used up vacation time, and dragged work home to try to keep up with responsibilities.

There is no question that productivity at work was affected. We found it difficult to concentrate and all of us fell further and further behind in responsibilities. According to a study from Grief Recovery Institute, there is more than $75 billion in unnecessary costs due to lost productivity, accidents and impaired decision making in the workplace as employees deal with the loss of a loved one.

We know, of course, that we are not alone. The baby boomers are coming face to face with their own mortality as they deal with aging and the loss of their parents. Many are shocked to realize that they are now the “older generation.” They are even more amazed to discover how time consuming and energy draining it is to deal with the day-to-day issues of caring for a loved one.

Seventy three percent of caregivers for aging parents are women, according to the non-profit organization Children of Aging Parents. They estimate that 22,411,000 households in the U.S. are involved in care giving with the average age of the caregiver being 46 years of age; when employees are often at the peak of their careers.

Here are some steps you can take at your workplace to assist employees who find themselves in this predicament:

•Allow flexing of vacation/personal time. Caregivers for ill family members spend many hours coordinating doctor’s appointments, therapy and insurance issues. Being able to use vacation “hours” rather than whole days can significantly ease the burden. Allowing flexibility and understanding with give the message to all employees that the company cares about their well being.

•Create a program to ‘donate’ vacation hours. Employees often provide valuable support for each other and welcome the opportunity to be of assistance. Obtain permission from the employee to let others know of the situation. Make it easy for hours to be donated and credited to the correct account.

•Have care coordinators available through the EAP or human resources. There should be a ready listing of resources for family members to access as needed. Too often, relatives do not know where to turn and will spend unneeded time and energy to locate nursing homes, hospice care, home care providers and social workers to coordinate the care. As this is usually conducted during regular work hours, it further disrupts the workplace and affects efficiency.

•Educate managers and supervisors to refer for these issues. While usually sympathetic and empathetic, many supervisors fall short on really being helpful. Teach them how to identify and respond to these issues. Urge them to sit down with employees as soon as learning of a family illness or tragedy. By offering assistance early and often, the company and employee will benefit. Research has shown that people who can maintain a normal work routine do better with grief and transition.

Barbara Bartlein, The People Pro may be contacted at

FREE E-mail newsletter, sign on at Barbara Bartlein, is The People Pro, and President of Great Lakes Consulting Group, LLC, which helps companies sell more goods and services by developing people. She can be reached at 888-747-9953, by e-mail at: or visit her website at



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