Around 100,000 company employees leave their jobs every year to dedicate themselves to the care and nursing of family members*, and companies are feeling a sense of crisis about losing employees in the prime of their working lives. As part of the drive to reform working styles, companies are striving to create environments in which employees can still make work contributions while they care for loved ones. We spoke about this issue with Ms. Yuko Onizawa, Head of the Corporate Sales Department at Benesse Senior Support, which operates a “Work & Care support service for those balancing work with elderly care”.

*99,000 people were classified among “The number of people (over 15) leaving their previous place of work due to care and nursing duties in the past year” in the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications’ 2017 Basic Survey of Japanese Business Structure and Activities.

Almost none of the seminar participants knew about their own company’s measures for support of care

Ms. Onizawa: “Caring for relatives is an issue that anyone can face, but people tend not think about it until it happens to them. Almost none of the participants in the seminars on balancing work with care duties that we hold for companies we support say they know about the support systems at their own companies.
Moreover, even if companies provide some kind of support measures (Figure 1), they often have no grasp on how many of their employees worry about care issues or what troubles them. Employees feel they cannot talk about care problems in case it negatively affects their appraisal or promotion prospects, and some eventually choose to leave.

Figure 1: Multiple responses OK/2017 data from Benesse Senior Support’s survey of participants at its seminar trial session (for HR and diversity promotion staff)

Does leaving a job due to an inability to manage both work and care ease the burdens?

Ms. Onizawa: “In fact, survey results show that economic, physical, and mental burdens all increase after leaving a job (Figure 2). Around 65% of respondents said that mental stress had increased, and this could be because they feel trapped when surrounded by care duties all day, every day.”

Figure 2: Survey of Workers Balancing Work and Elderly Care, Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting Co., Ltd. (2012 survey on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare)

Ms. Onizawa: “I have experience of providing care myself, and as care has no end point, to keep it up for a long time I believe people need the separate world of work to provide a change in emotional state. I feel it is also necessary to move forward by having discussions between those providing the care and those receiving it, such as what kind of care can be provided while working, and what kind of things are best dealt with by hiring professional care staff.
Companies too are looking to have open discussions about such issues in a bid to discover the kinds of workplaces that enable both work and care duties to be handled with no drop in work performance.

Companies must convey the message that “We want you to continue work”

― What kind of support initiatives does the Work & Care service offer to companies?

Ms. Onizawa: “First of all, companies must convey the message to employees that “We want you to continue work”. We tell companies that holding seminars on balancing both work and care duties is one way to do this. We ask for cooperation in completing surveys after the seminars that we hold, and this helps bring to light worries about care issues and real-life conditions. Many of the company staff remark: “We have to do something if so many people concerned about balancing this with work!” (Figure 3)

Figure 3. 2018 data for participants’ survey from Benesse Senior Support’s “Seminar on Balancing Work and Elderly Care”

A company that uses the Work & Care service found that around 30% of its workforce is children of the baby-boom generation (workers in their late-40s). Management said that the sense of crisis created by the possibility of large numbers of them leaving to care for relatives in the next few years meant that implementing measures on care issues became a key strategic priority. It decided to hold a seminar to increase knowledge about care issues, and all the places were filled within an hour. This changed the company’s thinking from a vague idea that something organized should be done to a commitment to definite action.

Ms. Onizawa: “Due to an understanding that care is a “family problem”, some companies have held seminars on Sundays to enable workers’ family members to attend. Moreover, firms with nationwide operations want to provide fair access to seminars even to employees working in regional offices, and there is thus a growing need for online training that can be accessed from anywhere.

Other firms offering individual consulting services by email, phone, or in-person, and a big impression was made on representatives from firms where service usage is not very high when they were told that “This simply shows that few people are having trouble now, but the important thing is always having somewhere to turn to and not the number of times a service is used”. That stance struck a chord.

The “Handbook for Balancing Work and Elderly Care” is a guide for employees detailing basic knowledge of care that was created in response to the demands of companies. Many people say they use it at home as an opportunity for talking to elderly parents.

Balancing work and care duties so that no-one loses out and work motivation is maintained

With the extent of societal aging in Japan, it is increasingly likely that one person will be responsible for caring not only for their parents, but also for relatives and local elderly people.

Ms. Onizawa: “It is difficult to judge how far companies should encroach onto personal problems, but in an era in which a growing number of people are faced with care duties, it is important that workers know from an early stage that there are company-wide measures they can fall back on without hesitation when that time does come.”

“Balancing work and care duties is not an easy thing, but it is highly rewarding. I want to continue working with companies on thinking about styles of working that allows creation of a world in which we support each other in living our respective lives so that no one has to give up work or lose out.”


─── Article cooperation:

■Benesse Senior Support
Head of the Corporate Sales Department
Yuko Onizawa

*Ms. Onizawa proposed a business of “supporting the balancing of work and care duties” based on her own experiences of nursing care when part of Benesse Corporation’s HR department. This led to the establishment of the Work & Care service.
She is currently a consultant and seminar teacher for companies who want to learn about balancing work and care duties.