Balancing Work and Caregiving

Part 1 of a 2-part series

Janis worries about her husband Richard, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. While she's at the office, she wonders how Richard is doing at home, which makes it hard to concentrate on the tasks at hand. But she is hesitant to discuss her situation with co-workers or her boss.

JoAnn spends most lunch breaks on the phone trying to sort out her parents' finances and medical appointments. Too often she is called out of an important meeting to handle an emergency. And then there are her two active teenagers! She is considering dropping back to part-time work—but in today's economy, is that a good idea?

Douglas was all packed to attend an important conference when Mom fell again. He had to cancel at the last minute…and since then, a co-worker has been sent to conferences instead. While Douglas is relieved not to have to find backup for Mom's care, he worries that his career advancement is now put on hold.

If you are one of the 44 million Americans who is currently caring for an elderly parent or other loved one, chances are you often feel torn between work duties and the tasks of your caregiver role—transportation, personal care, healthcare appointments, and so many other responsibilities. Many working caregivers report that they…

  • Miss opportunities for advancement and promotion
  • Cut back to part-time work, or resign entirely
  • Pass up travel or training
  • Use all vacation, personal and/or sick days to provide care
  • Take unpaid leave.

The financial cost is large. According to a definitive MetLife Mature Market Institute study, "Caregiving costs individuals upwards of $659,000 over their lifetimes in lost wages, lost social security and pension contributions."

Cutting back on hours may also leave caregivers without health insurance.

Adding to the demands on your limited time, you may also be a member of the "Sandwich Generation"—one of the millions of Americans simultaneously caring for elderly relatives and children under 18.

You Are Not Alone!

The good news is, policymakers are beginning to pay attention to this growing issue, and to recognize the vital role family caregivers play in the nation’s eldercare system. The U.S. government’s Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year in case of a health problem—including that of a spouse or parent. The National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) includes programs to promote caregiver-friendly employment practices. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released suggested guidelines that address unlawful discrimination against employees who provide care for a family member—including elderly parents. And this year, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Labor's American Time Use Survey took into account the time people spend caring for their aging parents.

Employers themselves are also taking notice. Times are changing. Gone are the days when the husband could spend as many hours as needed at the office while his stay-at-home wife cared for his elderly parents. Women are now just as likely to have jobs. Families are smaller, so the caregiving workload is spread among fewer family members. Delayed childbearing has resulted in more Sandwich Generation employees. And above all, as the baby boomers are entering their senior years, the number of elders needing care continues to skyrocket. Smart businesses know they need to prepare for caregiver needs in order to reduce the negative impact of...

  • Lowered productivity
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Workday disruptions
  • Replacement and rehiring costs when caregiver employees must resign.

Many companies are beginning to adapt, enacting policies and providing benefits that respond to the needs of caregivers. They know that the resulting employee loyalty, job satisfaction and increased productivity more than pay for the expense of such programs.

So…if you are currently a working family caregiver, what can you do to help balance your work and caregiving responsibilities? The first step is to make a plan and do your homework. Are you taking advantage of available resources? Are you trying to do it all alone, rather than asking for help? In the October 2012 issue of Hand in Hand, learn the answers to "Four Questions Working Caregivers Should Ask."

Source: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge. c 2012 IlluminAge.