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Caregiving Crisis – Employers Beware

Iowa is fortunate to have many jobs available for applicants, but unfortunately, there are not enough bodies to fill those positions. According to a 2017 Wall Street Journal article, Iowa, and 11 other Midwestern states have experienced a net outflow of 1.3 million people between 2010 and July 2017. In fact, if every unemployed person in 12 Midwestern states was placed into an open job, there would still be 180,000+ unfilled positions. The Iowa Workforce Development recently announced the number of unemployed Iowans in December (2018) is 40,600, an historic low of 2.4 percent. Iowa has THE lowest unemployment rate in the U.S.  (The U.S. unemployment rate in December moved up to 3.9 percent.)

To combat low unemployment, Iowa along with other states have developed plenty of free programs to train low-skilled workers for higher-skilled positions. For the second consecutive year, Iowa was named by Site Selection magazine as the Midwest’s top state for workforce training and development.  Another 2018 Wall Street Journal article indicated that Iowa’s extremely low unemployment rate has drawn “thousands of workers off the sidelines…with the share of Iowa adults working or seeking work at 67.9 percent in February (2018), nearly five percentage points more than the national average.” Rural Iowa employers have it more challenging, as the pool of local talent is just not there to fill positions.

Caregiver Responsibilities at Home

Now comes yet another challenge, but not just for Iowa employers. A new national survey by a pair of Harvard Business School researchers found that employers are likely to underestimate the struggle their employees have when balancing their professional and caregiving responsibilities. Caregiver responsibilities include providing for children and elderly parents. In fact, about three-quarters of U.S. employees face caregiving responsibilities, of which, 32 percent have left their job because they were unable to balance work and family duties. If employers fail to provide support for caregiving responsibilities, they will pay the hidden costs of presenteeism, absenteeism, turnover and rehiring.

This study was based on surveys of both employers and employees. A key finding was that despite more than 80 percent of employees saying their responsibilities at home kept them from doing their best at work, only 24 percent of employers believed that caregiving was affecting their employees’ performance. This enormous divide is troubling, yet it can also help nudge employers to understand what they can do to retain employees, especially during a very tight labor market.

Other study highlights include:

  • Younger employees, ages 26 to 35, were more likely to leave a job because of caregiving responsibilities.
  • Hard-to-replace higher-paid employees and those in managerial or executive positions were also most likely to quit.
  • More men than women said they left a job because of family needs.
  • As the nation ages, caregiving responsibilities are expected to grow. The Census Bureau projects that for every 100 working-age Americans, aged 18 to 64, there will be 72 people outside that range by 2030, an increase from 59 in 2010.
  • With an increasing share of jobs expected to require a college degree or beyond, the loss of many women could exacerbate labor shortages in the future.

This study caught my interest because, for the first time since we began in our employer benefits study in 1999, we will ask a series of work-life and convenience questions in our 20th Iowa Employer Benefits Study©. Among asking many work-life benefit questions, we will learn about the prevalence of the following caregiver benefits offered by Iowa employers, such as:

  • Personal days
  • Sabbatical leave
  • Adoption leave
  • Foster child leave
  • Leave to attend a child’s activities
  • Maternity leave
  • Paternity leave
  • Child-care subsidies
  • Elder-care subsidies
  • On-site or near-site child and/or elder care
  • And more…

As we learned from surveying both Iowa employers and their employees in our 2007 Iowa Employment Values Study©, there can be a great disconnect between what employees’ desire at the workplace versus what their employers think is important to employees. The aging of the Iowa workforce, in addition to the challenges faced by young families can cause caregiver ‘tension’ that adversely impacts both employees and the unsuspecting employer. To address these challenges, Iowa employers must search for new ways to further accommodate the changing workforce environment pressures that are vital to employee well-being and, consequently, their productivity.

Sometime this summer, our 2019 survey will reveal new results about the prevalence of caregiver programs offered by Iowa employers. Such benefits, I suspect, will vary greatly by industry and by employer-size categories.

To stay abreast of employee benefits and healthcare issues, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Standing at Your Desk – A Healthy ‘Fad’?

Since mid-October, I have been experiencing a pinched nerve in my lower back. Anyone who has experienced this type of condition knows the pain can be excruciating, as my symptoms also include numbness or weakness of my lower back and left leg. Lumbar radiculopathy is typically caused by a compressed spinal nerve root, which results with pain in the leg rather than in the lumbar spine. Why this happened to me is unknown, but I would speculate it gradually developed from daily running when not biking. Having ‘additional’ birthdays may also be another reason!

With the help of a physical therapist, I perform various daily exercises at home (or in the office). Despite PT, however, the searing pain persisted enough to have an MRI performed, confirming the Lumbar 4 location. As I wait for the next elevated level of care – most likely an epidural steroid injection – I judiciously use Tramadol, a synthetic analgesic opioid medication that is used to treat moderate to moderately-severe pain. For me, the best relief is to simply sit down, which allows me to forgo Tramadol. Accordingly, I spend more time sitting at my desk working on projects that don’t require traveling to outside meetings. Needless to say, having these physical limitations are wreaking havoc on my daily activities…and exercise routine.

I share this ‘protected health information’ because I am intrigued by the latest craze – the stand-up desk – a desk that allows you to stand up while working at the computer. You will find ads in newspapers, magazines and the internet about these desks, often touting why it is so much healthier to be working on your feet rather than, well, your bottom.  The purported health benefits of these desks are both broad and deep. One website listed at least seven potential health benefits when using such desks:

  1. Standing Lowers Your Risk of Weight Gain and Obesity
  2. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels
  3. Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
  4. Appears to REDUCE BACK PAIN!!!
  5. Helps Improve Mood and Energy Levels
  6. May Boost Productivity
  7. May Help You Live Longer

Fantastic! I want…no…I NEED to have a stand-up desk!

Due to our sedentary office jobs and daily living habits, American workers burn around 140 fewer calories per day compared to 59 years ago (1960). In July 2016, The Lancet issued study results that indicated 60 minutes of daily physical activity (e.g. brisk walking, pleasure biking, etc.) may help offset health risks of having to sit eight hours a day at the office. This November, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued updated activity guidelines for Americans to help combat the fact that nearly 80 percent of U.S. adults and adolescents are insufficiently active. The health benefits of exercise are clearly not fake news, as there is too much scientific research to refute the naysayers.

Cautionary Note

Before buying into the aforementioned stand-up desk ‘craze,’ one might want to consider some research that at least tempers its glowing accolades.  Aaron Carroll, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, writes well-researched blogs about healthcare and policy. Recently in the New York Times, Carroll wrote a compelling piece about why standing-desks are ‘overrated,’ winnowing fact from fiction.

I will not take up my sitting time by regurgitating Carroll’s article, but I would like to summarize his ‘finding’ with the following: Exercise is important for our health, but merely standing is NOT considered to be ‘exercise.’ Sitting may not be the problem on why we are unhealthy, but rather, it may be a “marker for other risk factors that would be associated with higher mortality.”

Personally, I’m intrigued about standing while working at my computer. But first, my lower back must heal before I can stand for any period of time. For now, my lofty expectations about using a stand-up desk have been adjusted at a more reasonable (and comfortable) level…that of my office chair!

To stay abreast of employee benefits and healthcare issues, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Fast Food – Our Habit of Convenience

Habits we acquire happen over a period of time. They typically begin with a cue and a perceived positive reinforcement of a reward.

Maybe we bypass going to the fitness center or take a bike ride because it is more pleasant to sit on the couch and watch Netflix. It’s just too convenient to press the TV remote (cue) and then become engrossed in countless shows that are entertaining, educational – or both (reward). Doing this too often may develop into a new habit that could detract from a previous habit (e.g. gym or bike). We exchange one habit (exercising) for another, less-healthy habit (TV binge-watching).

According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, 36.6 percent of Americans eat some kind of fast food* each day, with men being a bit less discerning about what they eat (37.9 percent) than women (35.4 percent). When you think about it, fast food is always accessible throughout the day, making it just too convenient for many of us to pass up.

On a typical day, almost 23 percent of Americans will eat breakfast from a fast-food outlet, while about 44 percent of us will pick up a ‘quick’ meal during lunch. Not to be left out, fast-food dinners draw another 42 percent of Americans.

Ethnic group and age also provide differences when it comes to the daily consumption of fast food.

Ethnic Groups:

  • Black Americans – 42.4 percent
  • Whites – 37.8 percent
  • Latinos – 36.5 percent
  • Asian-Americans – 30.6 percent

Age Categories:

  • 20–39 years-old – 45 percent
  • 40-59 years-old – 38 percent
  • 60+ – 24 percent

Take-A-Way from This Report?

The conventional wisdom about fast food is that people eat it when they can’t afford something better (and healthier). However, this report suggests this wisdom is not necessarily true. For example:

  • Higher income equates to more fast food: The more money we have or make, the more likely we are to eat fast food on any given day. For example, about 32 percent of people who earn less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level eat fast food daily. However, over 36 percent of middle-income families (earn between 130 – 350 percent) purchase fast food daily, while 42 percent of people with incomes above 350 percent consume fast food daily.

This finding is interesting because healthier food can cost a bit more than fast food, and yet, regardless of having the ability to pay for more expensive, healthier food, we often elect the more convenient food that is available at our finger tips (often using the drive through). Additionally, with our younger population consuming more fast food compared to older generations, younger families (and their children) will be more likely to establish unhealthy eating habits – creating health issues later in life (obesity, heart disease, dementia, etc.). The intake of calories, fat, and sodium eventually adversely affects our health in many different ways.

Iowa Youth Obesity Rate is High

Another report recently released by The National Survey of Children’s Health compares the obesity rates of children (ages 10 to 17) for all 50 states. Almost 18 percent of our youth in Iowa are obese, ranking our state as the 10th highest state for youth obesity. Iowa’s white (non-Hispanic) youth are significantly higher than the national rate.

The implications of having overweight and/or obese youth present future challenges to our state. For one, employers desire to have healthy and productive employees in their workplaces, and having unhealthy employees will continue to leverage up their health insurance costs due to higher healthcare usage. No one wants a poor quality of life, but often this is a result of the choices and habits that have been established much earlier in our lives.

Per a recent Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health report, we are still trying to come to terms with the dietary fat we consume – fat that is good and fat that is bad.

This much we know. Establishing a habit based on mere convenience may not be the smart choice we should make for ourselves, individually – or as a society.

Now, where did I put my channel changer…

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*NOTE: For this survey, fast food was broadly defined as any item obtained from a “fast food/pizza” establishment. It is possible that some people may interpret fast food differently from one another – e.g. takeout sushi, etc.