Tips for Managing Caregiving and Work

Tips for Managing Caregiving and Work

As a family caregiver, you have more than the usual on your plate. Not only are you dealing with your own day-to-day life and obligations, you are also taking on the responsibility of helping to care for someone who can’t fully care for themselves anymore.

Maybe your work as a caregiver means that you stay in close contact, help your loved one run errands, or otherwise do things that you manage to fit into your daily schedule. Or you might be on the other end of the spectrum, where your loved one needs your attention throughout the day or night, making it tough to juggle the needs of the person you are caring for with your other responsibilities.

For most family caregivers, paid work is also a consideration. According to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, about 60% of today’s 53 million caregivers in the United States also work either full-time or part-time paid jobs.1 That rate is even higher among millennials, where one in four caregivers between the ages of 18 and 34 earn a paycheck in addition to providing care for a family member.2  

Being stretched so thin takes an enormous toll. According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, working caregivers report many health problems, including an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. They also report higher rates of depression and other mental health issues.3

To make matters worse, time away from the workforce as their loved one needs more and more care can lead to a loss of health coverage or finances so tight that paying for healthcare premiums becomes difficult, if not impossible – which means they don’t get the proper treatment for their own health conditions. That vicious cycle could contribute to the fact that 23% of caregivers say that caregiving has made their own health worse.4

Caregivers need help to better balance their work life and their caregiving responsibilities. Here are some tips to make life easier while finding a unique kind of work-life balance. 

Reach Out for Help Before You Need It

When you embark on your caregiving journey, it’s often a gradual transition. Your parent might start out needing a bit more help here and there. You might start to worry about how they are getting around the house, especially if they live alone or with another senior – that’s the ideal time to opt for an emergency alert system and make sure they have certain home modifications, like grab bars and non-slip mats in the shower.

As time goes on, you might notice other problems that require more and more of your time. Before you know it, you’re in a caregiving role just as often as you are in the working world, and the balancing act begins.

Be very realistic about what is happening before you get to that point. If your parent needs help getting in and out of the shower right now, the natural decline of aging might mean that soon, they have trouble getting in and out of bed. If they are having trouble driving now, start preparing for when it’s time to talk about putting away the keys.

Anticipating these issues can help you talk to other family members, friends, and trusted neighbors about how they might be able to step up to help with your loved one so that you can continue keeping up your productivity at work but never neglect their care.

Talk to Your Employer

A study by Caring Company found that about 75% of workers who were also caregivers felt that the caregiving affected their productivity at work. Fortunately, only about 24% of employers agreed – however, they did note that the extra absences and time off work required to handle caregiving duties probably affected their career trajectories.5

Keeping your employer in the loop about what is happening at home is a great idea. If they know you are struggling with caregiving duties, many will be compassionate and cut you some slack. And even if they don’t have the power to do that, letting them know what is happening will give you some peace of mind that if the difficulty becomes too much and you wind up leaving your position – like about 32% of working caregivers have done – they won’t be blindsided by your decision.

Understand the Benefits Available for Caregivers

Many workplaces offer robust benefits that can help you take care of someone you love. Now is the time to talk to human resources or your manager about what is available to you. Some benefits are considered “standard” because they fall under federal, state, or local laws; others are dependent upon the employer and their benefits package. Here are some options you might encounter:

·        Counseling and support. Employee assistance programs are often available, especially at larger employers. These programs might offer blanket services, such as a set number of counseling sessions, but they might also offer very specific services for caregivers. Some might even offer care referrals that can help you find affordable in-home care for your loved one.

·        Remote work and/or flex time. Remote work has become much more popular since COVID forced so many people to work from home; many employers realized that their employees could provide just as much productivity from home – if not more – as they did in the office. Talk to your employer about the options for a modified schedule.

·        Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for the purposes of caring for a close family member. This is a federal law – if your private-sector employer has 50 or more employees, they are subject to this law. If you work for the government, there is no threshold – everyone who works for the federal or state government is entitled to FMLA. Using FMLA can’t be held against you when it comes to promotions or raises, as part of the law includes protection against retaliation. It’s a complicated law, so do your research before you choose to use it.

·        Using paid time off. In some states, you can use accrued sick days or vacation time to take care of your loved one. How your employer handles that depends upon any applicable state laws and the internal policy of the company. Talk to your manager or human resources before you actually need to use the time, so that you are prepared if any extra paperwork or notice is necessary.

·        Family leave programs. Some states have laws that provide paid family leave for caregivers who need to take time away from work to care for a family member. As with FMLA, the laws are complicated and depend upon your state, so talking to your manager or human resources office is a must.

Have Emergency and Contingency Plans in Place

If you are a working caregiver, you’ve probably had nightmares about something bad happening to your loved one while you’re away and unable to help them. Medical alert systems for seniors can help alleviate some of that worry by providing an option for your beloved family member to press the button whenever they need help, 24/7, and reach an emergency command center staffed by live professionals.

But you should also have other plans in place, such as what to do if you can’t get out of work to help them get to an important doctor’s appointment, or if you must be away for work for an extended period of time. Reaching out to family and friends is a great way to start, but you can also plan to hire occasional professional caregivers if the need arises. Get in touch with a home health agency to learn about your options for hiring a pro to fill in the gaps if you can’t be there.

For day-to-day issues, set up a system of phone calls at certain times of the day or night, just to check in. This can work well for someone who is mostly independent and just needs the occasional bit of help or reassurance.

Find Caregiving Community Support

You might be surprised how much support you can find in your work community. Remember that you are not alone in your journey – if you look around the office, you might find that there are many others just like you, who are stepping up as caregivers for an elderly loved one while juggling what they need to do to keep their work life moving along smoothly.

Your workplace might offer a support group for caregivers. If they don’t have one, now is the time to start one! Simply talking with those who are walking the same path can work wonders for your mood and give you resources you might not have considered before.

Look into programs in your community or online that bring caregivers together; you might find these support groups at hospitals, clinics, senior centers, adult day care centers, and more. Some of these programs offer more robust support in helping share the burden of caregiving; for instance, some group members might share the cost of a home health aide or bring their loved ones together for fun outings.

Finally, don’t forget to turn to technology to bring in even more help. Organization apps like Lotsa Helping Hands can help you see what others can do for your loved one, thus taking some of the burden from you and allowing you to handle work more effectively. Medical alert technology, such as a fall alert, can help alleviate the worry you might feel if you have to work late or go into the office. Video chats can help you actually see the person you are talking to and gauge how they are feeling or if they are acting strangely. Embrace every bit of technology you can to help find a good caregiver work-life balance that makes everyone happier and healthier.