Are You Guilty of CWE: Caregiving While Employed?

If you're a U.S. worker who's also caring for an elderly parent, relative, grandparent or person with disabilities, you're not alone. An estimated 45.3 million Americans care for another person on average 24.4 hours a week, and among those caregivers, 60 percent are also holding down a job. 

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (2015 data), 40 percent of caregivers describe their responsibilities as stressful, 20 percent say caregiving has negatively impacted their health, and 60 percent say caregiving has led to shorter hours, part-time shifts, leaves of absence and even negative performance write-ups at work. Businesses feel the stress, too, experiencing an estimated $29-$33 billion financial impact from lost productivity and healthcare costs for caregiver employees—an estimate last updated in 2006.  

Nationwide, 60 percent of caregivers are women, and 40 percent are men—all of them striving to balance life and work as unpaid caregivers.  

With help, you can be an employee and a caregiver 

If you value your job and honor your loved one, you should be able to be both a good caregiver and a good employee. Time with a loved one who is ill or elderly can be precious, fleeting and life-affirming for you. Being respected as a member of a smoothly functioning work team is equally rewarding. Both require proactivity and organization on your part, especially if you hope to avoid caregiver burnout. 

Honesty, brainstorming and work resources help you share the load 

Start by looking into your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to see what it offers to caregivers. At some companies, flextime, family leave or other work-related resources are available for caregivers. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave.

Caregiving While Employed 

Here are more tips: 

  • Communicate with your boss and your co-workers. Let them know what's happening at home, and be honest about potential changes to your schedule. If your caregiving situation is unpredictable, say that. 
  • Keep a to-do calendar at home and work to avoid missing deadlines or prevent rushing out of work for a forgotten appointment 
  • Honor your work hours. Use breaks and lunchtime to make caregiver phone calls, search the Web or keep in touch with those at home 
  • Offer your own solutions to your employer, whether working late hours to finish work or projects, working remotely or from home, exploring job-sharing or offering to research other outside-the-box working arrangements 
  • Set priorities 
  • Delegate and accept help from others, at work and at home 
  • Be aware and appreciative of the helping hand others extend to you when you are stretched 
  • Remember your situation when someone else is struggling with Caregiving While Employed; extend the hand someone extended to you 

Even if you work in a small business without formal policies for family leave or time off work, flextime and eldercare issues are hot topics in business. If several interested employees approach the boss about family issues, you may be able to come up with win-win solutions. It’s worth a try.

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