From helping with housework to running errands to managing medications, caring for an older loved one comes with numerous responsibilities. If you are a caregiver who also works, you likely have the added pressure of try to fit those responsibilities around your work schedule.
Juggling a career and caregiving is becoming an increasingly common scenario. A 2020 survey conducted by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving found that more than half of caregivers, 6 out of 10, are working full-time while caring for a loved one. That same survey showed that more than two-thirds of working caregivers report some impact to their careers, including losing job benefits, being turned down for promotions, and needing to reduce the number of hours worked.
Balancing work while caring for a loved one can be difficult; however, there are some steps you can take to reduce stress and avoid burnout.
Things You Can Do at Home
Developing solid routines and recruiting assistance can do much to help stressed caregivers. Here are four simple steps that may help you balance working while providing care for a loved one.
Bills, paperwork from the doctor’s office or health insurance companies, and receipts – the amount of information caregivers need to sift through can seem endless. Creating a system that works for you can reduce your chances of becoming overwhelmed. It will also make it easier to locate paperwork for tax purposes, or an insurance claim. The key is to file things quickly, and to be consistent.
In addition to organizing paperwork, you should spend time organizing your schedule. If other family members are involved in helping provide care, you may want to create a shared calendar with important dates – doctor’s appointments, bill due dates, etc.
There are only so many tasks that a caregiver can fit into any given day. Spending a short amount of time each morning or evening determining what receives your attention may relieve some stress you might be feeling. In addition to selecting tasks that only you can perform, try to leave room for things that bring you joy – like taking your loved one to a concert, or helping them with a project they are working on. Try to be realistic and flexible when creating your list.
Build Your Team
No matter how well you organize and prioritize, chances are good that your to do list will be too long. Recruiting a team of friends and family members that can assist you on a regular basis is important to helping prevent burnout. If your options are limited, you may need to think creatively. Can you hire someone to help with cleaning chores? Is a landscaping service or neighbor available to help mow the lawn and rake the leaves during the fall? Does your local grocery store and pharmacy allow you to order online, and will they deliver to your loved one’s home?
Learn From Others
While it might seem selfish to set aside time for yourself, support groups can be a wonderful resource for caregivers and their families. Spending time with others who understand firsthand the stress and struggles associated with caregiving can be beneficial. Additionally, support groups can be a wonderful way to discover new ideas that might work for you and your loved one. Check out VeryWell Health’s website for a curated list of caregiver support groups you can join.
Things You Can Do at Work
While each employer and situation are different, following are some general strategies from AARP that might help you balance caregiving and working:
Talk With Your Boss
Having a discussion with your boss regarding your situation is usually a good place to start. Obviously, no two situations are alike, but most employers will appreciate an open and honest approach. On the other hand, waiting until an emergency happens can cause an unnecessary amount of stress – for you and your employer.
Know Your Options
In addition to understanding what your company’s policies are regarding caregiving and time-off, you may want to explore if there are other options available. For example, adjusting your work hours, creating a flexible schedule, or working from home for a few days per week may help to create a little breathing room.
From short-term counseling to helping you locate respite services for your loved one, an Employee Assistance Program can be a great resource for caregivers. Not every Employee Assistance Program is the same – if your employer offers this type of benefit ask your human resources department what services are offered.
Take Advantage of PTO
Depending on your company’s policies and the laws in the state where you work, you may be able, or required, to use your sick or vacation days for caregiving duties. Check with your supervisor or human resources department for additional information.
Take a Leave of Absence
Enacted in 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible workers to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave to care for a spouse, child, or parent with medical condition. You can opt to take all twelve weeks at once, or you can choose to use the days as you need them. Be aware that your employer might ask for a letter from your loved one’s doctor confirming their condition, as well as their need for a caregiver. To determine whether you are eligible for leave under the FMLA, visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
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