Balancing Career and Caregiving
Alternatives to quitting work for Family Caregivers
Karen is passionate about her career. For nearly a decade she has worked with the same local law firm as a legal aide and truly enjoys contributing to the business. However, since Karen’s mom was diagnosed with dementia last year, she has found herself needing to spend more time away from work transporting her mom to and from doctor’s visits and ensuring she has the help she needs to safely cook, clean and complete simple activities like bathing. As her mother’s dementia progresses, Karen fears that she may need to leave her job altogether and focus on caring for her mom, a prospect that she finds frightening due to the effect on her finances and her personal wellbeing.
Thousands of caregivers find themselves in the same position as Karen: needing and wanting to work, while simultaneously having to act as the primary caregiver for an ill or elderly loved one. While leaving the workplace often seems like the only solution for overburdened caregivers, this decision can have a devastating impact on a caregiver’s financial standing now and in the future, their health insurance coverage, and their feeling of self-worth.
Work is often a place for caregivers to temporarily focus on something other than caregiving, and to have an identity outside of being a caregiver. However, in today’s working world, there may be options available for you other than quitting a job. Technology has made working from afar a more realistic option, and an increasing number of caregivers juggling a career, their own family responsibilities, and caring for an ill or elderly loved one have made many employers more flexible with working caregivers.
Below, we examine a few options that you may find useful in determining how to balance work and caregiving without stretching yourself too thin financially, or risking your own health and sanity.
Depending on your job, telecommuting may allow you to complete your work from a location other than your office, such as the home of your elderly loved one. Via email, online shared documents and telephone communications, this option calls for caregivers to complete work off-site, granting you the ability to manage your workload while being present for caregiving duties. With online time-tracking technology and the ever-increasing popularity of electronic communications, employers in an office setting may be open to offering a telecommuting option on a part-time basis to allow you time both in and out of the office to manage work-related responsibilities.
If the responsibilities of your position have become too much for you to juggle with your caregiving duties, consider talking to your employer about a job sharing arrangement. “Job sharing” allows two individuals to work part-time in fulfilling one position, thus reducing the hours required for your job while still ensuring that the work gets done for your employer. For some caregivers, job sharing or reducing hours may be coordinated with another family member to share caregiving duties during the time you’re at work; ensuring that your loved one has the assistance they need and you can focus on your job-related duties, rather than worry while you’re away. In deciding if this is a good option for you, talk with Human Resources at your job about how this will affect your health insurance coverage and retirement plans.
Creating a Network of Help
If adjusting your work schedule or hours isn’t an option, you might consider creating a patchwork of family, trusted friends and neighbors who can assist you with checking in on your elderly loved ones while you’re at work. For example, perhaps a sister-in-law could stop by to help with the breakfast and morning pill routine a few days each week, while a neighbor drops in to help prepare lunch every now and then. By having a network of various, trusted individuals available to help when you’re focused on work, you can ensure that your loved one is having their needs met. Having multiple helpers creates a safety net of back-ups when work demands or unexpected situations make it impossible for you to be there . Online tools and calendars exist to help families coordinate care among multiple family members and friends. (Some examples: Tyze.com, LotsaHelpingHands.com, and CaringBridge). Also, if it’s in the budget, home care assistance coupled with the help of family and friends can provide additional senior care coverage. Adult Day Programs may also provide regular supervision and socialization for your loved one in a safe environment.
Communicating with your employer
While not all employers will be open to work schedule adjustments, many caregivers have found that it is best to be honest with your employer about your current personal situation. If you are comfortable doing so, let them know that you are currently acting as a caregiver and feeling jammed between your personal and work responsibilities. By presenting the above options as a way to ensure that you best fulfill both roles, and keep your talents and expertise with the company, you may find that you employer is willing to work with you, at least on a short term basis, to help ease your stresses – and also reduce their stress of having to hire and train a replacement. In addition to the options above, talk with your employer about whether or not you are eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This allows for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a seriously ill parent, spouse or child, while protecting job security at companies with 50 or more employees. During the course of discussions with your employer, you also want to ask about the minimum hours required to keep your benefits with the company, and make a plan to keep your health insurance or other benefits in effect for as long as possible. By reasonably addressing the pros and cons of “caregiver friendly” work situations, your employer may be able to become an ally in your quest to successfully manage caregiving and career. Our Fact Sheet on Work and Eldercare and Community Care Options may offer more tips and suggestions to support working caregivers.
Question to Readers: Have you found a unique solution to maintain your job while caregiving? Please leave a comment and share your experiences with other readers. Content contributed by ClearCare, Inc.