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Workplace Issues

Balancing work and family caregiving is difficult. Employers are waking up to the pressures that their employees are bringing to work with them. Harry Wiland interviewed executives of Steelcase, a family-owned office-furniture company in Minneapolis.

Debbie Vander Molen is a human resources executive with Steelcase.

The effect of aging and caregiving is having a significant impact

I work in an area called cultural innovation and my job, specifically, is to work on issues around work and personal life blending in balance.

Steelcase recognized that for our employees they are on a day to day basis dealing with both personal life responsibilities, needs, desires and work life responsibilities, needs and desires.  And obviously you can't separate those two things.  There's a weaving that has to occur.  What happens in their personal lives and the time that they need to spend on personal life issues have an impact on life and vice versa.  So, we believe that we can "leverage" the relationship between work and personal life so that our employees are better able to achieve the things that they want to at work as well as at home.

As I look at some of the research that's coming out about the new workforce and the current workforce I believe caregiving is going to become an even larger issue than it is today, especially when we think of the aging of the workforce today.  Here at Steelcase the average age of our employees is about 46 years.  That means that they're dealing with care of children at the same time that they're dealing with the care of perhaps elderly family members. It may be a spouse who's also requiring some form of care so that folks can get to work.  For the younger generation coming along, the research that I'm reading indicates that they expect to be able to care for and be part of their families, develop friendships, be part of the community as well as work.  So they're looking for a better blend.

I think we're on the brink of a whole new age, with an aging society and I'm not sure that as a society we're ready yet to deal with the numbers and the issues that we're going to be dealing with in the future.  I think we've got a way to go.  I feel proud to be part of a corporation that foresees some of these issues and is taking part in planning for the future, but I think as a society as a whole we need to do some planning for the future. 

I truly believe that we're moving more quickly than we have before, that we're involved in more things than we have ever been involved before - as individuals but with communities, and works, and friends, and all of those things.  I think it becomes more and more difficult to be able to really stop, spend time with family, spend time with elderly members of the family.  Here at Steelcase we offer programs like part-time work, job share, telework, flexible work schedules to try to recognize individuals' need for time. To give them more freedom in terms of when they work, how they work, where they work.  Certainly the job has to get done.  We are a business.  But we try to recognize that time is a major issue for our employees today.

Brian Cloyd, Human Resources Director:  The effect of aging and caregiving is having a significant impact on Steelcase.  Twenty years ago we started off with a child care referral program that has existed for twenty years and has grown and if you think back, in 1978 about the time we started the program we had a large number of baby boomers coming into the organization. 

We were hiring people at about a thousand people a year at that point in time.  We had to address their needs.  They were all at the childbearing age, the baby boomer age and so the right thing for us to do was to have a child care referral program to take care of their needs.  Now twenty years later those same people are getting ready for retirement. 

And guess what, their parents are already in retirement and in tradition with our feeling of taking care of employees needs, it's important for us to look at what's going on next.  And what's going on next is that they're aging, their parents are aging and there's a need to take care of them and their parents. 

At Steel Case we have formal programs for care giving and we have some informal programs that we use.  From a formal standpoint, we have our child care program that's been around for about twenty plus years and we've had our elder program that we've had since the 1980's.  Those are formalized programs that employees can access on a need basis and provide for the needs of whether it's a child or an elderly parent. 

But in terms of other things that come up, the normal occurrences of someone having a stroke or a sudden death in the family, I would say that we do some amazing, incredible things to help our employees out and they're very informal.  We have had situations where a family member was on vacation and had a tragic accident; we've flown our corporate jet down to the location where they vacation to take the family members to help with the accident, and to bring the remains back. 

We have given employees money or psychological support, counseling support as tragedies come up in their families. And, it's not something that we could take each individual incident and turn it into a program, but we're aware that there are times in people's lives when they need some extra additional assistance and we want to be there to help them provide that.

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Debbie Vander Molen

Debbie Vander Molen

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