Balancing work and caregiving responsibilities can be challenging. Many informal caregivers find themselves juggling doctor’s appointments; supporting daily living activities such as bathing, dressing, and medications or organizing bills and other needs, while striving to maintain a career.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, approximately 43.5 million caregivers provide unpaid care to an adult or child within a 12-month period. As Baby Boomers continue to age and as the cost of senior living and in-home care grows, the need for informal caregivers will continue to increase.
Informal caregivers who are employed outside of their caregiving responsibilities have schedules, deadlines, and demands that can place unexpected strain on their emotions, focus, and energy.
Here are some helpful tips to help balance your career when you’re a caregiver:
1. Prioritize your Physical and Emotional Health – Caregivers often don’t realize they are susceptible to health-related issues, including high-blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and addiction. It is important to keep up with personal doctor’s appointments and remain aware of any changes in physical feeling, in mood or overall mental health. You should not only make necessary appointments to maintain good physical health, but also reach out to mental heath professionals to care for your emotional wellbeing.
Supporting your emotional health can also include connecting with others who can empathize with your feelings. This can be done through community support programs or online caregiver groups and forums. These provide opportunities to exchange ideas and get support at any time of day.
2. Practice Self-Care – A caregiver’s general tendency is to make sure everyone else is taken care of first. However, it’s important to practice self-care to ensure you have the energy and mindset to function well at work and continue to care for others. Self-care includes maintaining a healthy diet, getting adequate rest, and doing some form of physical activity or exercise. It can also mean taking a lunch break or free moment to go outside for a walk or read a book.
3. Maintain Relationships/Support Network – Many working caregivers tend to neglect social activity or relationships, and even spend less time with other family members. Connecting with those you value and love helps you manage stress and responsibilities better. Additionally, some friends and family members may be willing to assist with caregiving tasks or household chores. This could even include stopping by to sit with your loved one while you complete other tasks or rest.
4. Talk to Your Employer – Having a direct conversation with your employer about your circumstances can be helpful for managing both work and home responsibilities. By sharing information about your needs, your employer is likely to be more understanding if/when unexpected circumstances arise that may cause you to arrive late or miss a deadline. They also may be able to help you consider support resources that you were not aware of. Ultimately, it is important to make sure your employer knows that work is still one of your main priorities. This will help them support you as needed.
5. Review Employer Benefits/FMLA – Many employers offer benefits packages that include a variety of resources and services to support caregivers. These include Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that provide counseling, eldercare referral services, and more. Some employers have flexible leave policies that allow employees to use sick leave to care for others or to share leave, which allows employees to donate unused leave time to other employees.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides another option for caregivers to consider, as it gives eligible employees 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave. This can be used to care for a sick family member.
6. Consider Flexible Work Options – Many employers are embracing flexible work options as an effective means of productivity for all employees. These can be especially helpful for informal caregivers, as flexible work options can include having flexible work or telework hours. For example, a caregiver may request to work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to be available for early morning doctor’s appointments, or from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. to be home in time to prepare for evening needs.
Teleworking is also an effective way to balance work with caregiving responsibilities. By working from home or your loved one’s home, you have greater ability to use break times or time that would be spent commuting to care for your loved one.
Other flexible work options include swapping shifts with other employees, coming in on traditional “off-days,” or working shorter hours on specific days.
7. Research Community Resources – In addition to gaining resource guidance from an employer, caregivers can also reach out to local agencies that can share a variety of ideas on programs and services to support you and your loved one. For example, local agencies on aging can provide details on adult day centers, transportation options, and respite programs. Disability organizations, such as local Centers for Independent Living (CILs) can provide information on local activities, support groups, funding initiatives, accessible housing options, and much more.
8. Know Your Limits – It’s very important for caregivers to identify their needs and set physical and emotional boundaries to help manage responsibilities and prioritize self-care. This includes determining what personal space and time you consistently need, the type of communication and interactions you have with others (including co-workers), and any other needs that will help you function at your best. From there, communicate these needs to others so that they can be supportive.
For more ideas on services, programs, and resources to support your needs as a caregiver, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance.