We are seeing increasing numbers of workers, particularly women, taking on additional responsibilities of care-giving at home. With a growing proportion of elderly people in the population, many suffering with frailty and illness, the strain on care-givers who are also in employment is likely to grow, and this can lead to conflicts between work and home. In this piece, Yasin Rofcanin discusses the impact of care-giving on working life, but also suggests that there may be more positive outcomes to be found.
Demographic changes across the globe are expected to lead to a rapidly growing proportion of older people in the population over the next few decades. The group of people aged 70 and older will increase most sharply in size. Elderly people often need additional care, and at-home support is usually given by a relative. According to 2011 census data, at least one in nine workers in England and Wales has the additional responsibility of looking after someone frail or disabled. At the same time, there has been an increasing presence of women in the workforce. Since women are usually the primary care-givers at home, the provision of elderly care-giving has led to ever increasing conflicts between work and home domains.
Negative impacts of caring responsibilities
Consistent with these two trends, studies to date have supported the idea that providing elderly care is a physically and mentally demanding job, impacting negatively on the well-being of care-givers. Moreover, such demands are likely to take their toll on care-givers’ limited personal resources, such as persistence, energy and positive emotions, leading to deteriorated work outcomes and stress.
From a resource perspective, then, a question that begs further exploration is - what happens when individuals are provided with resources to cope with increasing elderly demands? For instance, could support provided through the workplace, such as family supportive manager behaviours or culture, alleviate the negative impact of elderly care on care-givers’ work outcomes?
Looking on the bright side
A recently growing body of research has started to look at elderly care-giving responsibilities from a rather brighter side. Utilising a sample of care-givers over a longitudinal setting, Zacher and colleagues explored the theory that elderly care-giving demands may not always associate negatively with the work performance of care-givers. They suggested that resources could buffer the potential negative impact and empirically investigated the role of a personal resource - satisfaction with elderly care demands - in avoiding such detrimental psychological effects on work performance. Their results revealed that the negative association between elderly care demands and work performance of care-givers become less significant when these care-givers are satisfied with their care-giving responsibilities. This study opens a plethora of interesting research questions, mainly from a positive psychology perspective, that centre around resource interventions to translate our perceptions of elderly care-giving from a mentally demanding and cognitively taxing experience into a positive and personally satisfying one.
A positive psychology approach
Adopting a positive psychology perspective, we recently conducted a study of elderly care-givers who work in two companies - one operating in financial services in El Salvador and one retail company in Peru (Rofcanin, Las Heras, Stanko and Escribano 2018, currently under review). The study involved managers and their employees, who are elderly care-givers. We explored a) the types of organisational resources that may translate the impact of elderly care-giving experiences into positive experiences and b) what happens when both supervisors and their employees face elderly care-giving demands in their homes. Integrating a trickle-down angle of care giving from supervisors to employees, we concluded that under certain conditions, care-giving experiences are indeed personally satisfying, impacting positively on the well-being and performance of care-givers.
The first key condition revealed from the study is that when supervisors perceive their organisation to be supportive of their well-being, their care-giving responsibilities translate into enhanced family supportive behaviours for their employees (e.g., by providing employees with flexible work schedules, listening to them and coming up with creative work-family conflict solutions). The second key condition demonstrated by the research findings is that when employees are supervised by managers who are care-givers themselves and who exhibit family supportive behaviours, the employees are more likely to perceive their own care-giving experiences as personally meaningful while also reporting improved work performance. These findings build on our previous research, which demonstrated the importance of perspective taking and empathy skills in the supervisor – subordinate dyadic relationship, especially when it comes to care-giving at home .
With growing concern for the well-being and motivation of employees in work settings, the need for resource interventions to provide support could be one important take away for line managers. Training interventions where managers are informed about a) ways of perceiving and handling care-giving responsibilities of their own and of their team members, as well as b) demonstrating and adopting a family friendly work culture, could be the new tools to create and keep a cohesive team while ensuring that everyone is happy in their non-work lives.
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