Family caregivers are all around us, but they are often hidden. At least 44 million people are unpaid caregivers in the US. Three-quarters of these family caregivers have jobs but struggle to balance work and caregiving responsibilities.
Caregivers help family members with bathing, dressing, medications, doctors’ appointments and more. There are many benefits to being a caregiver, but being a dedicated employee and a dedicated caregiver is a double responsibility. Bearing this double responsibility can decrease an employee’s productivity by 18.5% or more.
Often, the necessity to care for a loved one means missing work. In the United States, this results in lost work hours valued at $25.2 billion. This situation will not resolve itself. Meanwhile, the population of seniors who need care continues to grow.
How Employers Can Support Caregivers
Corporations can learn more about the reality of caregiving. Employers can help their employees achieve a balance between work and caregiving responsibilities.
Employer support helps employees stay focused and productive so that the employee can fulfill their responsibilities on the job and at home. Talk to your HR department about:
1. Educating and training supervisors and managers.
Employers can educate and train supervisors and managers on how caregiving impacts employees. 56% of caregivers say their supervisor does not know about their responsibilities at home. That is 22 million employees who are struggling to balance work and caregiving responsibilities, and their boss doesn’t know and doesn’t understand.
2. Flexible schedules.
The key to helping these employees is workplace flexibility. Doctor appointments, sicknesses and falls don’t always stick to “business hours.” Allow employees to use flex-time, reduced hours, or work from home. Employees can meet company deadlines and responsibilities on a flexible schedule.
3. Referrals to community professionals.
Businesses are often well connected. Employers can help employees find and access available resources. Find out how the following resources could help those at your company:
- A Geriatric Care Manager. They can show your employee how to access resources and create a care plan. This care plan would meet the needs of the employer, your employee and the person receiving care.
- A Nurse Advisor. They can answer questions about the health conditions that the person receiving care may have.
- A Mental Health Counselor. They can assist the employee with discussing any emotional upset and stress they are dealing with. A mental health counselor can also assist in providing advice on home care services or senior living communities.
- Your Agency on Aging. This group can provide information on support groups, adult day care centers, transportation options and unique local nonprofits.
Employers can help by learning about the caregiver’s responsibilities and providing support. By investing in this, they can continue to receive valuable contributions from their employee, increase productivity and reduce turnover. By reducing caregiver stress, employers improve the lives of three parties — employer, employee and their loved family member.
8 Tips for Employees to Balance Work and Caregiving Responsibilities
Balancing work and caregiving is an ongoing challenge. Today, you may feel you have a handle on this balance. Tomorrow, you may feel overwhelmed again. Here are six ways to balance work and caregiving:
1. Consider taking paid leave.
Your employer may offer paid leave as an option to care for dependents or family members. Familiarize yourself with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act to see how it may apply to you.
2. Use your workplace skills at home.
Use your organization skills in both the workplace and at home. Create a calendar for your workplace responsibilities and deadlines, but also have a family calendar to keep track of appointments.
3. Make an emergency plan.
Talk with your co-workers and employer about what you plan to do if you need to leave work for an emergency. Then find somebody who is close to home, a friend or neighbor who can help until you can get home.
4. Use your network of support.
Ask for help with caregiving tasks from reliable friends and family members. Ask human resources about “Employee Assistance Programs.” Speak with a Geriatric Care Manager about services that are available in your town or county. They may recommend respite care, in-home care, support groups and even “social” caregiver events.
5. Talk about your home responsibilities.
Talk to the people around you about your responsibilities at home, especially your employer. You can help others to better support you by telling them what you need. To you, the needs may be obvious, but others may not be aware of your stress levels and needs.
6. Support your body with food and movement.
Prevent caregiver stress by making sure that you are providing fuel for your own tank. Try to eat as many healthy meals as you can. Take time for 20-30 minutes of physical activity in your day. If you don’t have time for this all at once, try to add 5-minute exercise breaks into your day.
7. Know that your feelings are normal.
Take time to understand and express your feelings. Caregivers are often crushed by a wide range of emotions. You may feel everything from love and empathy to frustration and anger at any given time. Worry, anxiety, guilt and isolation are also common emotions, so expressing these to others can help you manage them.
8. Get emotional support.
Connect with others who can understand the feelings you are experiencing. You can even connect online in caregiver groups and forums. There, you can exchange ideas and get support at all hours of the day.
How to Talk to Your Supervisor about Work and Caregiving
You might need support to continue balancing the load of work and caregiving. Having a conversation with your supervisor can help you understand what options are available to you. Here are six tips on how to talk to your employer.
1. Set the stage.
Let your supervisor know you would like to talk to them about setting up a caregiving plan so you can balance your work and caregiving roles.
Choose a time and a place where both you and your supervisor are relaxed and comfortable. Don’t wait until a Friday afternoon, when a project isn’t completed, or an emergency occurs like your mom calling to say your dad fell and you are needed at the hospital.
Carolyn Rosenblatt is an Aging Health Specialist who recommends that every person over the age of 40 with parents over the age of 70 should have these difficult conversations. This can include talking with your employer about looming or current caregiving responsibilities.
2. Come in with a plan.
Before you meet, take some time to make a list of what you need. It could be flex time, paid family leave, the ability to telecommute or simply a sense of understanding and support.
Howard Gleckman states in a Forbes article that 65% of organizations offer flexible work hours but only 39% of employees will take advantage of this. Be aware of what your legal rights are as an employee and what benefits your company offers.
3. Be honest about your situation.
You might be going into work and trying to leave your home-life problems at home. Be honest about what you need to accomplish outside of work, and how that load affects you at work. Your supervisor is most likely unaware of the load you are carrying.
4. Listen to your supervisor’s response.
Although this conversation is about your needs, your supervisor may also have concerns. Take the time to understand what those concerns are so you can address them before they come up at a later time.
Ask your supervisor what the priorities are in your job. Maybe the committee that is taking all your evening hours is not necessary for you to be on. Understanding what your supervisor wants you to focus on and what they are fine with your taking off your plate can help you focus on what’s most valuable.
5. Brainstorm together.
Hopefully, at this point in the conversation, you have both felt heard. Now it is time to put an action plan in place. Use lots of “I” statements that clearly say what you need.
For example, “I need to be able to take my mom to her specialist appointments each month and will need to take a paid day off to do so. I know that we have a major project due at the end of the month so I will have these steps completed by this date.”
At the end of the conversation, you want to have a plan that you are both comfortable with.
6. Set your priorities.
It’s a difficult balancing act to be a good employee and a caring family member. Often your success with this is determined by your priorities.
Find ways to maximize your time and resources. Look at the things that you are good at in your caregiving role and focus your energy on those. Take the smaller or more time-consuming jobs and find a way to streamline the process so you can focus on working instead. Outsource at work! Don’t use a $50 work hour to do a job you could spend $15 to have done for you. Ask a neighbor to shovel the driveway for $15 instead of spending your own limited time doing it. Use a meal or grocery delivery service instead of battling traffic to the grocery store. Buy a robotic vacuum cleaner that you can set and forget.
Remember that being a family caregiver does not make you a bad employee. It means you are a caring person who is providing care for a loved one who needs you. That is important. Use the time you have to do what really matters.