Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Chris came to London in 1994 and has been using his talents to create a more age-friendly society ever since. In 2012, Chris co-founded The Positive Ageing Company (TPAC), which went on to become the UK’s leading independent advisor on employee eldercare support in a short period of time. One of TPAC’s most popular components is its AgeingWorks platform, an innovative cloud-based portal that helps employers and employees manage the financial, emotional, and physical complications of ageing and elder care. Chris was more than happy to discuss the need for employee eldercare support for local and expatriate employees.
Why does the ageing workforce issue matter?
The whole ageing issue is a global phenomenon, and people are really starting to talk about it more. We see a lot of trends come and then die out in this industry, but this isn’t really like that. It’s an imperative thing because of the underlying demographic shift. Society is ageing, and that has long-term consequences. A lot of times, things can be fashionable for a year or two and then they kind of go off the radar, but this issue and its implications for businesses are very much still in the infant stages.
It sounds like this definitely isn’t something that’s just going to go away on its own, correct?
Absolutely. This isn’t going away – this is a demographic shift that has another 20 or 30 years to run. And there are a few organisations who truly get that, and they are starting to act, but I think very few actually generally understand the scale of it. It will be ongoing for years, decades. This brings huge challenges, but it also brings opportunities if you’re proactive.
What are the prevailing societal trends and issues affecting all of this?
Throughout the UK, there are more elderly parents to take care of – and they are living longer. There are also more working adults needing to stay in the workforce longer. The population of people over the age of 65 will have increased 50% by 2030, coupled with 1 in 3 UK-based employees being over the age of 50 in the next three years.
We are seeing more and more employees in the workforce juggling work and family care - but sometimes, it’s just unmanageable. Women are actually 17 times more likely to leave work to provide care than men. The typical age for working carers today is 45-65 years old, so throughout organisations, your most experienced and your most valuable staff are also the ones most likely to be caring for an elder. That can have a significant impact on a business, if they aren’t properly equipped to help them out.
Another big cause is the fact that funding for healthcare has essentially been flat-lined in the UK as part of the Government’s austerity programme. The burden of care is now being taken on by the individual and moving away from the state. But many employees need to be supported so that they can continue working, and obviously, not having the data to help guide and address this can really put employers at a disadvantage.
To what extent are expatriate employees affected by all of this?
This definitely has implications when viewing it through the lens of the expat. We’re now seeing a lot of older expats well into their 40s and 50s and their concerns are more about their parents or for their in-laws.
If you are in a different country, eldercare can mean the difference between taking an assignment or not taking an assignment. From an expat's point of view, things like dementia and other serious age-related ailments are a serious concern, and they might be taking on the challenge of caring for their elders remotely, from afar. That can be extremely hard to manage while working full-time. It’s a big source of anxiety.
Would you agree that it’s not an issue that companies can sweep under the table?
Absolutely. If there is something we can do to help these expats and other employees, that’s very valuable for them. There are also a lot of sandwich-generation workers out there too caring for their children and their elder parents, and sometimes even their grandkids as well. So it really is a far-reaching issue that affects everyone in a number of ways.
Can you give us some background on yourself and how The Positive Aging Company (TPAC) came to be?
My background is in investment banking in London, working in the derivative trading area. My mother was in Australia doing elder care, and I heard her 20 years or so of war stories from the frontlines of that occupation. Also, many of my friends at the time were finding that they had to care more and more for their elderly parents, all while juggling their own careers. It was around this time that my brother and I recognized the absence of companies providing programs to support staff in dealing with elder care. That was more or less the idea for creating The Positive Ageing Company back in 2012, and the AgeingWorks platform, as well.
What factors do you think contributed to AgeingWorks’ success?
AgeingWorks was created as a cloud-based program to help organisations and employees manage age-related issues, and there are a lot of age-related issues in the UK right now. For employees who are already dealing with or are about to face eldercare responsibilities, it's about reducing stress, providing support, and providing education as the workforce continues to age. For organisations, it’s a way to engage and support employees in a positive way, and reducing family eldercare-related absence, productivity and retention issues.
The platform is designed to save employees time, money, and stress. We do that in a number of ways. We provide webinars, tip sheets, innovation updates, seminars, and other tools and resources on our portal to raise awareness of the challenges of eldercare. That means everything from physical mobility issues to things like dealing with stroke to medication management to dealing with loneliness.
We also want our users to be aware of various opportunities and initiatives like volunteering. And AgeingWorks also has a marketplace where employees can purchase products and services. With Mercer’s assistance, we’ve been able to make every component of this more accessible than ever. Rather than going to Google and spending hours floating around and not getting anywhere, people can come to our platform and easily access these resources.
What would you say AgeingWorks’ biggest values are?
For employers, I think that the biggest value for our clients is the data. The platform tracks what employees are looking at and what they’re sharing, and then it anonymously provides that data with various aspects of employees’ lives and what they care about. Companies can see what content their employees are reading, and gives them insights into what types of issues are top of mind for them.
Recent research has shown that companies know there is a need to address these challenges, but they simply don’t know how to go about it. Most companies in the UK don’t really have access to data regarding how their employees are being impacted, let alone what they can do about it. They don’t have any idea who in their company is dealing with these things. Or, they might know who, but not necessarily know the extent of the problem for these employees. 1 in 9 employees in the UK is a working carer and 1 in 5 working carers actually leave work due to care responsibilities, so not only can AgeingWorks be used as a recruiting tool s, but as a retention tool, as well, especially for older and more experienced talent.
How has coming on board with Mercer affected the operations of The Positive Ageing Company and AgeingWorks?
Mercer have always had an interest in providing data on the ageing workforce, so we definitely have a shared vision. And they know that the ageing population is a major issue that needs to be addressed in the UK and globally. It really fits into Mercer’s mission and complements it. We’re fortunate to have the backing of such a huge global force, as one of the main attractions of Mercer was their size, their scale, their global footprint. We were very fortunate to land in a spot with good people who have aspirations to grow the platform. With Mercer’s help, we’re now selling it to over 100 different organisations throughout the public and private sector, everything from SMEs to global banks. At this time, however, AgeingWorks is still a UK-focused platform, so most of our clients are UK-based.
What other countries currently have a big need for a service like AgeingWorks?
The baby boomer phenomenon is a cultural thing that encompasses pretty much all western societies, from the States to Europe to Canada, and Australia. The ageing society challenge is also felt across Asia, such as in In Japan, where there are now more adult diapers sold than children’s diapers, and in China, where the one-child policy has artificially created a top-heavy society. A growing number of emerging countries are starting to experience the same issues but don’t have the infrastructures and support policies in place to deal with an ageing population. Each region has its own unique challenges for different reasons.
It’s clear that there’s a widespread need for these services, and that need isn’t going anyway anytime soon. With all of this said, what do you think is next for The Positive Ageing Company and the ageing workforce?
For now, the platform is primarily in the UK. We have just launched version 2, which is fantastic because a key goal was to take it to that next level. We just got into the door with Mercer early last year, but we intend to be client-led rolling the platform and its services out to different regions. This is a big opportunity that Mercer has allowed for us, and we’re excited to see how far we can take our services in the future.
Find out more about eldercare support for employees and their families.