Serving as the primary caregiver for a senior loved one requires an enormous amount of time and energy. Working full time outside the home is equally demanding in different ways. Put these two scenarios together, and it’s a recipe for exhaustion.
“Caring for an aging loved one is stressful enough, and trying to do so while working from the office makes the situation much more difficult,” notes Sarah Doody, a career expert and founder of Career Strategy Lab.
Working on-site is less than ideal when you’re caring for an aging loved one, agrees Dave Rietsema, founder and CEO at HR support site Matchr.com. But he offers this bit of good news: “Many more companies offer remote work options now that the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated its effectiveness and popularity.”
To make life more manageable, caregivers may consider asking employers to adjust their work schedule to allow for additional time at home. But knowing how to start that conversation and how to make a case for working remotely — even on a part-time basis — can be daunting.
Here, career and caregiving experts outline how to approach your employer about remote work and provide guidance for making the conversation as productive and positive as possible.
How to prepare to propose working from home
Prior to scheduling a meeting with your employer, gather information that will support your request, thus making it easier for your manager to say yes.
“It’s important to evaluate whether you can properly perform your role from home before deciding to approach your employer,” says Bianca Padilla, a family caregiver and CEO and co-founder at Carewell.com, a retail site for health and wellness products for at-home care.
Padilla recommends collecting any insights that can demonstrate your productivity while working from home. “If you worked remotely during the height of the pandemic, use any achievements made during that time to showcase that the transition won’t negatively impact your performance,” she explains. “Also, be upfront with the level of care you’re providing to set expectations early on.”
Consider the full extent of accommodations you’ll need to do your job effectively, suggests Tara Elwell Henning, co-founder of Superkin, a consulting business dedicated to employee caregiving culture and benefits.
“What type of technology support will this take?” she asks. “What do hours look like? For the next eight weeks, will you always be escorting Mom to a Tuesday morning chemo appointment from 9 to 11 a.m.? Can you join a meeting but perhaps it’s without video?”
Creating a work-from-home plan ahead of time shows your employer that you’re committed to finding a middle ground that works for both of you.
How to approach your employer to propose working from home
Rather than catch your manager off-guard with your request, schedule a meeting.
“Have this conversation when you’re rested and calm to ensure the conversation is productive,” recommends Padilla. “It’s important to demonstrate how working remotely is an indication of your commitment to the company. Because you want to continue working and growing with the company, working from home will allow you to perform your role at a high level while being able to balance your duties as a caregiver.”
She recommends approaching the conversation with your supervisor as an opportunity to work together to design a remote program that avoids any challenges associated with working from home that they might be concerned about, like missing out on facetime with colleagues.
While employees might feel nervous or anxious about the meeting, Henning offers a confidence-builder: “Know that it costs a lot to replace you — on average twice your annual salary — and workplaces are in flux, so there’s a huge spotlight on employee retention,” she says. “It’s very likely your boss doesn’t want to lose you, so you have this in your favor.”
Women and people of color often shoulder a larger share of the caretaking burden. Employers who want to provide a diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) workplace will make retaining these employees a priority. Offering caregiver perks, such as a flexible work schedule, is a mutually-beneficial arrangement which supports DEI initiatives for employers and productivity and peace of mind for employees.
How to discuss remote work with your employer
While many people like to keep their personal lives out of the office, you’ll do well to open up about being a caregiver. Sharing the details of your situation can actually lead to receiving the support and flexibility you need.
“Be transparent with your supervisor so they understand your situation and don’t feel blindsided by your request,” recommends Padilla.
As you prepare to speak with your employer, be ready to outline how this new arrangement will benefit the company as well.
“Explain that working remotely will allow you to maintain or even improve upon your current levels of productivity,” advises Rietsema.
Not only will pointing out how the arrangement benefits them potentially sweeten the deal, but it benefits you both to figure out a way for you to continue working at your job, points out Rietsema. “Turnover is expensive, and having to hire and train someone new to perform your job would cost the company both time and money,” he notes.
He adds, “Highlight what you’ve brought to the company so far so they know how valuable an employee you are.”
Then, after you’ve made your request and shared your talking points, allow your supervisor to ask questions. “They may need additional insight to help inform their conversation with management about your request,” says Padilla.
How to keep communication open as you pivot
If you’re granted the ability to work from home, work with your supervisor and team to establish a cadence of communication and a remote schedule, advises Padilla. “You may have to come into the office for certain meetings that require in-person interaction,” she notes. “Remain flexible and committed to meeting your employer’s needs.”
Just because you’re not on-site that doesn’t mean your absence should be felt. A best practice for remote work is over-communicating, emphasizes Padilla. “Because you’re no longer in the office, it’s easy for employers and supervisors to feel like you aren’t as involved in the day-to-day,” she says. “Proactively provide updates, and share feedback.”
Additionally, when you’re going to be away from your home office, be sure to block off your calendar and make sure your team knows when you’ll be disconnected and when they can expect your return.
What to do if the answer is “no”
If your employer doesn’t allow you to work remotely following your request, you may want to explore other benefits that the company offers.
“Paid family leave and schedule accommodations may offer you the flexibility you need to balance work and caregiving,” points out Padilla.
Doody adds, “Some companies might help cover the costs of adult day care, elder care services or time off to accompany your loved one to various medical appointments.”
Still, in the event that your employer doesn’t offer any flexibility, it may be time to start job hunting. “Search for a company that considers the needs of caregivers and provides benefits that allow you to care and work,” she suggests.
Henning also suggests speaking with a member of the human resources department or looking into the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.
Why you should feel empowered to ask about remote work
Take heart: As more employees face the challenge of caring for aging loved ones, employers may be more open to putting accommodations in place rather than risk losing that expertise to another company that offers remote work options, adds Rietsema.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone. But according to the “Working While Caring: A National Survey of Caregiver Stress in the U.S. Workforce” report shared by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers, 44% of family caregivers who were employed full time were forced to scale back to part-time work because of caregiving. And 10% had to leave their jobs completely.
Given the risk of burnout or colleagues making false assumptions about why you’re unexpectedly taking more time than usual away from the office, it’s particularly important to ask for help and to advocate for your needs. As Doody notes, Employees should not try to do it all nor should they keep their personal responsibilities a secret from their employer.”