Work / Life Balance for Caregivers – Key to Successful Care and Life

Many family caregivers juggle a senior loved one’s needs, children, spouses and a job outside the home. Imagine the amount of juggling required every day to make everyone happy — probably everyone other than the caregiver, that is!

Did you know that almost 25.5 million Americans who care for someone 50 and over are also working?

In 2012 a Gallup poll found that more than one in six people working full or part time report assisting with the care of an elderly or disabled family member, relative, or friend.

Family caregivers who work at least 15 hours per week said it significantly affected their work life.

Caregiving Puts Pressure on Work

A report from the AARP Public Policy Institute in 2012 found that “among working caregivers caring for a family member or friend, 69% report having to rearrange their work schedule, decrease their hours or take an unpaid leave in order to meet their caregiving responsibilities.”

Being a family caregiver when trying to maintain a career often results in financial burdens, including loss of wages, health insurance and other job benefits, retirement savings or investing, and Social Security benefits due to losing time at work or having to quit work or take early retirement (with a loss of benefits) to care for an elder.

In addition to lost time at your job, a lower productivity and extra time off needed could influence your ability to climb the career ladder and many report inability to accept promotions when caring for a senior loved one.

Businesses Beginning to Accommodate Caregivers

Some American businesses have begun to recognize the fact that a happy employee is a productive employee. They are slowly (some more so than others) understanding that flexibility for employees who are family caregivers, it doesn’t matter if the person to whom they care is young or old, will make them better employees.

  1. Some companies have begun to provide unlimited paid sick time covering not just personal illness but also caregiving responsibilities. What they found was the average number of sick days went down, not up, when flexibility became a standard practice. Most people don’t want to use all their vacation days for caregiving duties. Being able to get respite and a relaxation break will help caregivers remain physically and emotionally healthy and thereby, more productive employees.
  2. A recent survey showed that 3 out of 4 employers offer paid or unpaid leave to employees to care for the needs of an elder.
  3. Job sharing is a good way for family caregivers to continue to work at a career they enjoy but also meet the needs of their senior loved ones. Unfortunately, fewer employees are allowing job sharing possibly due to the recent economic situation.
  4. Flexible scheduling of work tasks can also help family caregivers. If an employee can be more productive working later in the day, a split day or some other arrangement suitable to meet their senior’s needs, they will be more loyal and efficient when they perform their job duties.
  5. Employers and managers could often be more understanding of the struggles of working family caregivers. Showing emotional support, offering resources or help to flex work time will be appreciated by family caregivers. Awareness that more time spent on personal phone calls during the work day to schedule appointments or check in with paid caregivers or family members is necessary for family caregivers is another way employers can show their support.
  6. Help family caregivers with information and resources for Employee Assistance programs and other organizations that can assist them meet senior’s needs. Only about 43% currently provide information to employees.
  7. Some companies (7%) are offering respite programs or links to resources so that caregivers can avoid burnout.
  8. Managers can receive training to show their employees who are struggling with family issues some empathy. Sensitivity training will go a long way to supporting caregivers (and all employees).

Working Family Caregivers Can Help Themselves

Caregivers with both a job and a family to look after find that juggling all the balls in their lives can be very difficult. Things don’t always go as planned and oftentimes something will suffer.

Naturally we don’t want to let the physical needs of our senior loved ones or our family go unmet, which means we may be forced to take shortcuts with our work responsibilities. There doesn’t seem to be much choice — and the outcome is not good for our future.

There are some things that you can do to help keep your life in better balance with respect to your work life. Hopefully your employer will be able to help you gain control of your situation.

  • Determine how your work schedule could be altered so that you will be able to perform your job duties with an appropriate level of productivity and effectiveness at the same time overseeing the needs of your senior loved one. Once you decide what positive changes can be made, communicate with your manager your proposed solutions for work place flexibility that will be mutually beneficial. You will be a healthier individual when you find ways to reduce job stress but also a more loyal and valuable employee when you work together to create a satisfactory solution.
  • Seek out community resources and information that will help you connect with needed services. You don’t have to do it all alone. Agencies are available to help you meet your senior’s needs and allow you to continue to have a career.
  • Determine your eligibility for various programs that could give you more support and receive all the benefits to which your senior is entitled. Review the BenefitsCheckUp site, from the National Council on Aging, to investigate your options.
  • Check out your company’s policies for sick and other leave time as well as other policies that might affect you as a family caregiver. Be aware of the employee assistance programs available to you and make use of them as a benefit.
  • Be open and honest with your bosses. Let them know what struggles you face with the care of your senior loved one and family members. Open communications with your employer could lead to creative problem solving and a better understanding of your situation. Don’t allow managers to jump to conclusions about your job performance without all the facts that only you can supply.
  • Keep yourself organized. You can alleviate many problems for yourself by coordinating and organizing your time, activities and paperwork. Find a system that works for you, whether it is a paper filing system, calendar with alerts or computerized spreadsheet and use it daily.
  • Give gratitude to those who help you. Don’t forget to say thank you and even give small gifts of appreciation to those in your network who support and assist you. Having a strong network is vital and keeping it strong with gratitude is a step worth taking.

Choose to Find Balance

How you find a balance in your work and personal life in order to achieve your goals as well as maintain your physical strength to carry on your caregiving duties is a personal choice.

No matter how you find your balance, we hope you are able to do so, for your sake and that of the loved ones for whom you care.

You will get out of it what you put into it. It may seem like a lot of effort in the beginning, but your time investment up front to manage your life’s schedule will pay off dividends in the long term.

We would love to hear what strategies you use to balance your work and caregiving responsibilities.

Please feel free to share with us so that we can learn from the experiences of each other and all improve our own situations!