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Top>Opinion>Emerging Issues in Work-life Balance: Support for Employee Caregivers


Hiroki Sato

Hiroki Sato [profile]

Emerging Issues in Work-life Balance: Support for Employee Caregivers

Hiroki Sato
Professor, Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management
Area of Specialization: Human Resources Management

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Supporting employee caregivers is an increasingly vital task

It is becoming increasingly vital for companies to offer support to employees who are juggling caregiving responsibilities, enabling these workers to do their jobs while at the same time caring for their elderly relatives. The main reasons are as follows.

First, while there have always been employees struggling to balance caregiving responsibilities with work, both the number and the percentage of companies facing with this particular challenge are unquestionably on the rise. Japan’s baby boomers will enter into their late 70s after 2025, and a growing proportion of them will require care and support. The care for this aging generation will fall on their children (the second-generation baby boomers); and these second-generation baby boomers represent a significant portion of company employees as a whole, which translates to a high percentage of employees with caregiving responsibilities.

Second, under the current Japanese law, companies must ensure job opportunities for employees until they are at least 65 years old. By then, a substantial number of employees will be juggling work with caregiving responsibilities. Of course, the employees’ caregiving duty is not the responsibility of the companies’. The companies, however, are essentially limiting the employees’ work-life-balance who are caregivers.

Third, not only is the number of caregiving employees increasing, but more of these employees are dealing with heavier and longer-term caregiving responsibilities. Compared with the baby boomers, the second-generation baby boomers have fewer siblings and are more likely to be single, or if they are married more likely to be in a household where both partners work. In addition, with their parents living longer, this generation tends to begin taking on caregiving responsibilities at a later age, which makes the profile of caregivers much older than what it used to be. It is likely that this trend will only become more pronounced in the coming years. With growing examples of employees’ burdended with heavy caregiving responsibilities over longer periods of time, there are instances where both spouses — each an only child—are working. In this situation, it is possible that they may be providing care for four aging parents. Similarly, we may see unmarried employees who are an only children caring for both parents on their own.

These trends make it clear that there are not only more caregiving employees in terms of numbers and percentages, but that the burden of caregiving on individual employees is becoming heavier and longer.

Japan lags behind in measures to support work-life-balance

Few organizations have fully embraced the vital nature of work-life balance initiatives. As a result, no more than a small percentage of companies are actively engaged in offering support to their caregiver employees.

Behind the companies’ inability to sufficiently recognize the importance of measures enabling employees to balance their caregiving and work duties lies the fact that the caregiving struggles of the workforce are hidden. The percentage of caregiving employees in their late 40s or older is estimated to be around 10%. In many cases, these caregiving employees who are eligible to get family caregiving leave, many of which are not communicating their need to the human resources department or their supervisor that they are juggling caregiving responsibilities. Hence, companies are unable to understand and reach out to their employees’ with caregiving challenges, causing the problem to remain hidden. This makes balancing work and caregiving even harder, resulting in less motivation at work and—in the worst-case scenario—being forced to leave the company.

Our multiple-response survey asking employees who they consulted about their caregiving responsibilities, for example, revealed that no more than one in ten had spoken to their employers. At the same time, the survey indicated that only a modest percentage (around 30%) of respondents felt uncomfortable in sharing their circumstances with their supervisor or co-workers. The fact that these caregivers are not against revealing their situation suggests that either the workplace climate makes it difficult to tell their company or their supervisors, or that these caregivers feel that they should not expect their employers to support them.

One of the prerequisites for companies offering support for caregiving employees is that they are able to quickly grasp the kinds of challenges their workers are facing. This requires creating a workplace environment where it is easy for those who take on caregiving roles to communicate their situation to their companies or to their supervisors as well as putting a system in place that actually provides support for work-life balance. In addition, in light of the differences between the support for working caregivers and the support for working parents, companies need to offer basic preparatory training that addresses caregiving while on the job before employees actually take on these responsibilities.

Hiroki Sato
Professor, Chuo Graduate School of Strategic Management
Area of Specialization: Human Resources Management
Professor Sato was born in Tokyo in 1953. He completed his studies at Graduate School of Social Sciences, Hitotsubashi University in 1981, and joined the Japan Institute of Labour (now the Japan Institute for Labour Policy and Training) as a researcher. He was hired as an associate professor at the Ohara Institute for Social Research, Hosei University in 1983. He became an associate professor at the Faculty of Business Administration, Hosei University in 1987, and gained his professorship in 1991. He joined the Institute of Social Science, the University of Tokyo in 1996, and moved to Chuo in October 2014.

He is the author of numerous books: Personnel Utilization Evolution Theory [Jinzai Katsuyo Shinkaron] (Nikkei Publishing), Work-Life Balance in the Workplace [Shokuba no Waku-Raifu-Baransu] (co-authored, Nikkei Bunko), Utilizing Part-time, Contracted, Temporary, and Outsourced Personnel (Second Edition) [Pato, Keiyaku, Haken, Ukeoi no Jinzai Katsuyo (Dai Nihan)] (co-authored, Nikkei Bunko), Issues in Work-Life Balance Support [Waku-Raifu-Baransu Shien no Kadai] (co-authored, University of Tokyo Press), and Protecting Caregiving Employees from Running Aground [Kaigo Risho kara Shain o Mamoru] (co-authored, Roudou Chosakai).

Professor Sato sits on both the Cabinet Office Council for Gender Equality and the Cabinet Office Council of Executives of Public and Private Sectors to Promote Work-life Balance; is chair of the Examination Committee for the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Diversity Management Selection 100; is an advisor to the Ikumen Project by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare; and more.