Is Caregiving Impacting Your Career?
Plan ahead to maintain your sanity.
The boss wants you to attend a breakfast meeting, but your dad has a 9 a.m. doctor's appointment. You really need to stay late at work to meet a deadline, but you can't leave your mother alone in the evenings. Sound familiar?
When trying to balance the demands of your job with the needs of an aging family member, your family has to take priority. But does your career have to suffer a permanent setback when you're a caregiver
Nearly 66 million people in the United States are unpaid family caregivers, according to a 2009 study from the National Alliance for Caregiving report. More than 70 percent of those caregivers have jobs -- in addition to clocking in an average 24 hours a week caring for a family member.
Ideally, you'll need flexibility in your work life to optimally handle both roles. Without this, many family caregivers find they are unable to maintain the level of employment they had been accustomed to. In fact, the National Alliance for Caregiving found that 70 percent of working caregivers make changes to work schedules by cutting back on hours, changing jobs or taking a leave of absence. Changes to one's work life can have a huge impact on your career and financial future, so it is important to weigh all options before making a move.
Before you do anything drastic, consider the tips below to help you integrate your career and your caregiving responsibilities.
- Know What to Expect
"Preparation can help eliminate potential burn out, anxiety and additional health concerns due to the added responsibilities," says Catherine L. Owens, author of "Be Your Own Hero: Senior Living Decisions Simplified."
Find a support group for caregivers in similar situations. For example, if you're caring for someone with Alzheimer's, locate a local support group through the Alzheimer's Association. Fellow members can offer advice on how they manage caregiving and working simultaneously. You also may be surprised that you have advice to offer other family caregivers, and this can feel empowering.
- Look at Your Schedule
Take a cold, hard look at your schedule. How has it changed since you started taking on caregiving responsibilities? And will those responsibilities grow or get easier in the future? Don't overlook the smaller obligations that still need to get done.
Estimate how much time you spend on different tasks throughout the day. Are you making lots of calls to doctors during working hours? Are you staying up late finishing projects for work? Trying to do too much will only burn you out faster. If your schedule isn't manageable, you need to see where you can make adjustments or get help.
- Think About Finances
Is your bank account struggling because you're caring for a loved one? When they care for a loved one, women forfeit about $324,044 and men $303,880 in lost wages and Social Security benefits, according to the MetLife Study of Caregiving Costs to Working Caregivers. Do you have savings to help cover your expenses?
- Hold a Family Meeting
Don't try to go it alone. "Have an honest discussion with your family and loved one to establish clear guidelines, roles and responsibilities, as well as the concerns, fears and hopes of everyone involved," Owens suggests. Try to share the load: Perhaps one sibling takes charge of financial matters, while another handles transportation or medication management.
- Discover Community Resources
Educate yourself on the caregiving, medical and financial services available before your loved one needs you; if your sick mom requires more support than you can provide, you can make necessary decisions and preparations ahead of time, Owens suggests. "This removes the stress of trying to navigate options during a time of crisis or an emergency." Your local Area Agency on Aging may be able to help.
- Research Flextime
If your caregiving duties are taking up more and more of your 9-5 hours, it may help to look into a flexible schedule.
"Flexible and telecommuting jobs are growing, and more employers are open to allowing employees to take advantage of these options," says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of Flexjobs.com.
Do you know anyone in your field who takes advantage of this trend? Ask how they make it work.
- Inform Your Employer of Your Situation
Make sure your boss understands your changing responsibilities outside the workplace and your need for flexibility.
"First and foremost, create a formal proposal that outlines how the flexibility you're asking for will benefit the company, rather than how it will benefit you," shares Sutton Fell. Let your employer know how and when you'll do your work, your plans for staying in touch with management and co-workers and how you'll measure productivity.
"Ask your managers for a meeting to discuss your proposal, rather than springing it on them casually," she says. "The more prepared you are, the better your boss will take the request."
- Consider Your Career Options
If your current job won't allow for any flexibility, it may be time for a change. Sutton Fell recommends pursuing work in fields that are more likely to allow telecommuting, such as medical, computing, IT, customer service, administrative, sales, education, marketing, web/software development, nonprofits or philanthropy. However, deciding on a career change should be the result of thoughtful consideration and communication with important, trusted people in your life. You'll need to understand both the risks and benefits.
- Hire Backup Caregivers
There will be times when you simply can't get away from work. Make sure you have reliable in-home help to cover the gaps. Services (such as Care.com) offer pre-screened caregivers who can provide care coverage when you cannot be there, or you just need a few hours to yourself. Some companies may even offer Care.com's Senior Care Planning and/or Adult Backup Care as an employee benefit.
- Know Your Legal Rights
If your loved one is going to need extensive care, it may be simpler to take some time off. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a federal law that guarantees many individuals of certain up to 12 weeks leave in a 12-month period to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious medical condition, while preserving your job. Eligibility for this benefit can vary by state, so do your research before exploring this option. Some states even have a broader definition of who the care recipient can be to take advantage of this benefit. Keep in mind, however, your employer doesn't have to pay you during this leave, but must continue your health insurance benefits.
Setting realistic expectations at home and at work are key to maintaining your sanity as a caregiver. "It is common to see a more rapid decline in the health of a care provider than that of the person being cared for," says Owens.
If you don't care for yourself, you'll be poorly equipped to care for a loved one or be a productive employee. But planning ahead and constantly reevaluating your role in your workplace and at home will help you maintain the necessary balance.
Gillian Burdett is a freelance writer in New York. Her writing focuses on education, public policy and family issues.
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