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Are You Guilty of CWE: Caregiving While Employed?

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You’re on the phone with a home health agency, trying to get some help for your aging parents. Your office cubicle is anything but soundproof, and personal calls are frowned on.

Your mother has macular degeneration and will need weekly eye exams for a while. Every appointment will take you out of work for a minimum of two hours—with traffic, more like three.

Your father has lived with you for years, being there for the kids when you work late and generally helping out. Now he’s not doing well. You’re out of excuses for why you can’t come in today or are “running a little late.” How long can you keep this a secret?

It’s no secret

Caregiving While Employed

With 65.7 million Americans providing long-term care these days, it’s no secret that sons, daughters, spouses and even unrelated friends of the family are trying to balance life and work as unpaid caregivers. And it takes a toll on businesses: according to Jody Gastfried, VP of senior care services at, caregivers miss an average of 6.6 work days per year due to either taking care of an elderly or sick relative or from health problems related to caregiving duties, including depression, diabetes and high blood pressure, costing their employers up to $33 billion annually.

It’s the elephant in the middle of the room: no one wants to mention it. So we make whispered phone calls and lots of excuses. We call in sick to care for someone else who is sick. And many of us quit jobs we like (and need) because caregiving takes everything we’ve got.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Be honest

In fact, the first thing all 65.7 million of us need to do is be honest with our bosses about changes at home. You may assume your cubicle phone calls and extended lunch hours are telling the whole office what’s going on. Never assume. Make time to sit down and tell your boss what’s happening at home. Tell him/her what changes in your schedule you see coming. If it’s still unpredictable, say that.

And bring solutions to the table: you’ll work late to finish those reports on time; you can monitor your email on your laptop from the waiting room or tackle work at home; you and a co-worker have worked out a schedule so each puts in the required time and your duties are always covered. Your boss may have other solutions; the point is that you are willing to think (and work) outside the box to meet your obligations.

You can do both

If you value your job and honor your loved one, you should be able to be both a good caregiver and a good employee. Certainly there are benefits to both. Time with a loved one can be precious and fleeting. You will be glad you were there when needed. And it is just as rewarding to be respected as a member of a smoothly functioning work team. It just takes some organization on your part.

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Start by looking into your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to see what it offers to caregivers. There may be flextime, leave or resources to help you be a caregiver as well as an employee. The US Department of Labor’s Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave.

Learn more:

Even if you work in a small business without a formal policy, 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.

Here are some other tips:

  • Communicate with your boss and your co-workers
  • Keep a to-do calendar at home and work; avoid missed deadlines or rushing out at 2:30 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
  • Set priorities
  • Delegate, 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 guilty of Caregiving While Employed; extend the hand someone extended to you

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