Balancing caregiving with work is becoming more and more common. Of the approximately 41 million Americans who provide care for loved ones, the majority is simultaneously trying to earn a living. According to AARP, nearly a quarter of the largest age group in the labor force, workers ages 45 to 64, report being family caregivers, typically for a parent. The average caregiver in the US is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends the equivalent of another part-time job—nearly 20 hours per week—providing unpaid care to her mother for about five years.
Employees may turn down a promotion or other opportunities, reduce work hours, take a less demanding job, quit or take early retirement, take a leave of absence, arrive late or leave early, or take time off during the day. Caregiving while working presents challenges such as potential discrimination, job security stress, career mobility, and employment-related benefits including health insurance and retirement plan contributions.
Juggling work and caring responsibilities can lead to serious stresses that can affect your performance abilities. AARP states that “Many working caregivers report health problems, depression, and lost time and lower productivity at work.”
Not to mention the toll it takes on your personal life. You may find yourself less involved in the community, spending less time with loved ones, being constantly distracted, or emotionally or physically drained. Here are some solutions for managing work and caregiving commitments that will help you hold it all together.
Review Your Company’s Policies
See what resources your organization offers that might apply to your situation. Check the employee handbook to see if there are any policies regarding caregivers. Your company may offer family leave, flexible work options, an employee assistance program, or counseling on managing your time or reducing stress.
Workplace programs may also include caregiver resource referral to help you find services in the community (such as medical support and meal delivery), on-site support groups for working caregivers, and discounted emergency home care. Workplace benefits like family leave and paid sick days can help working adults balance their job responsibilities, personal lives, and family caregiving responsibilities.
Talk to Your Boss
Schedule a meeting to discuss the policies and resources available to you with your manager and/or Human Resources representative. Don’t wait for an emergency—let them know about your situation as it unfolds so arrangements can be made. Whether you need to adjust your schedule or take some time off, come up with a plan that will meet your needs as well as the company’s needs. Anticipate how your higher-up will react. Re-iterate your commitment to your career and meeting your boss’ expectations.
There’s only so much you can do. Be honest, assertive, and reasonable about what you can realistically handle. Let your superior know what you need and how they can assist. Have a plan for how you’ll manage priorities, including upcoming tasks, projects, and deadlines. If your boss is completely clueless, educate them with this article on how to better manage caregivers.
According to AARP, the majority of caregivers must make accommodations work due to their caregiving responsibilities. Work adjustments can include arriving late, leaving early, taking time off, cutting back on work hours, changing jobs, or stopping work entirely.
Nowadays, thanks to technology, many jobs can be performed online. Even if there’s no formal policy, some organizations will offer flexible hours or remote work options on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps you can work from home a few days a week, compress your workweek, or modify your daily schedule. Job-sharing is another interesting option where two people work part-time to fulfill one full-time position.
Getting pushback? Cite these findings from AARP: “Numerous studies have found that flexible workplace policies enhance employee productivity, lower absenteeism, reduce costs, and appear to positively affect profits.” Remind your boss that being flexible with you will save time and money that otherwise would be spent on recruiting, interviewing, selecting, and training new employees.
Request Time Off
Depending on your state’s laws and employer’s policies, you may be able to use paid sick leave, vacation time, personal time, etc., to take time off of work. Otherwise, you may be eligible for unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FLMA).
FLMA has restrictions and only applies to those taking care of a parent. Generally, the labor law requires government agencies (including local, state and federal employers), elementary and secondary schools, and private employers with at least 50 employees to provide employees with 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. There are lots of stipulations: You must have worked there for at least a year, logging at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to taking time off. Additionally, your employer must at least 50 employees within 75 miles of where you work, so if your company is spread out all over, FMLA won’t apply.
If you and your employer meet all of those qualifications, FMLA is pretty great, because even though you don’t get paid, you get to keep your group health insurance coverage and the same (or similar) position at the company. Plus, you don’t have to take all 12 weeks at once, it can be spread out intermittently as the medical condition requires. This time off can’t be held against you in any way.
Give notice 30 days in advance, citing that a family member cannot perform daily activities or that hospitalization or continuing medical treatment is necessary. Your employer may ask for more info, but they must let you know if your FMLA request was approved within five days of the application. If it was denied, they must divulge the reason.
Discover Local Resources
Reach out to your local Agency on Aging to find out what community resources it offers. Services may include an assessment, respite care, case management, education, escort services or other transportation, family caregiver programs, in-home assistance, meal delivery, referrals, and helpful information. Ask about an adult daycare program or senior center that can provide your loved one with structure and socialization while you work.
Create a Caregiver Community
It takes a village, as they say. Connect with other caregivers at work, in your community, or online to get resources and support from those facing the same issues. Is there someone you could team up with to cover each other’s caregiving responsibilities when needed?
Come up with a Contingency Plan
An emergency can throw a wrench in your best-laid plans. Nonetheless, it’s worth exploring potential worst-case scenarios so you can be as prepared as possible. List all of the calamities you can think of and come up with a contingency plan for each. Enlist friends, family, and coworkers who can assist in your backup plans.
While juggling caregiving and work, time is your most precious resource. Use scheduling and organization tools to effectively manage your time and help keep track of responsibilities.
Lotsa Helping Hands is a collaborative care calendar website, while CareZone helps organize health information. At the very least, have a calendar or planner to keep track of appointments and activities. Prioritize caregiving and work responsibilities so you don’t waste time. If someone other than you can do something, delegate it. Remember to pencil in a little personal time whenever possible.
Take Time for Yourself
We hear you laughing. Time for me? What is this concept? It’s easy to put other’s needs before your own, especially when it comes to caregiving. However, when you take care of yourself, you’re giving everyone else the best version of you. People at work and the person in your care deserve a well-rested, healthy, and happy version—and you do too. Manage stress by working out, reading, spending time with loved ones, or tending to a hobby—whatever you can to do in order to be your best physically and mentally.
Keep work and caregiving as separate as possible. You don’t want to lose focus and work and make your employer and coworkers think you’re flakey. Avoid “presenteeism,” aka being present in body but not in mind. Perform caregiving duties, such as going to doctor’s appointments, during personal hours, like during your lunch break.
Caregiving responsibilities could make you less visible than colleagues who work a full day.
Stay in communication to reiterate your commitment to your work. For example, if you have to leave early, let your boss know how you will make up the time. It’s easier for your boss to be supportive if you’re still a productive member of the team.