Balancing work and caregiving

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By Monica Rheuling

How many times have you tried to be in several places at once? Have you ever found yourself, on the job, thinking more about the places you had to go or the things you needed to do after punching out at 5 p.m.? If you have, you are probably experiencing the difficult balancing act of being a working employee and a caregiver to someone dependent on you.
According to the National Family Caregivers Association, www.nfca cares.org, 65 million Americans care for chronically ill, disabled or aged family members or friends for at least 20 hours per week. One half of all caregivers work outside the home. The number of employed caregivers in the United States is expected to increase in the coming years. Roughly one in 10 employed workers also will be part time caregivers for a loved one.
Caregivers account for 73 percent of early departures and late arrivals at the workplace. Caregivers often have long and frequent phone calls on the job, are prone to more mistakes, accidents and conflicts at work. The overwhelming stress of trying to perform well in the workplace and at home often leads to these incidents.
Caregiving also means big money, both to the employee and employer. Employed caregivers are estimated to cost American businesses up to $33 billion annually in lost productivity, worker replacement, absenteeism and other consequences of employees focusing more on their caregiving duties than on their work.
More than 11 percent of working caregivers said they have had to quit their jobs because of their overwhelming caregiving responsibilities. Caregivers also said turning down promotions and assignments because of family situations, resulting in lost wages, Social Security and pension contributions.
Many employees by day, caregivers by night think they should keep their “moonlighting” job to themselves, not wanting to share this information with their supervisor or human resources supervisor. They often do this for fear of the perceived notion that caregiving responsibilities will interfere with their job performance, keeping them feeling torn between both.
Deny it or not, caregiving may at some time interfere with a job in some way and a supervisor should be made aware of the situation as soon as possible. A mother’s routine doctor’s appointment, a father suddenly becoming hospitalized, or an older relative with a chronic illness may have to become the priority, placing the job on hold.
Honestly Discuss The Situation. Tell your manager or employer about caregiving demands at home. Don’t offer excuses, but explain why you may need to decline additional hours, a promotion or transfer. Reassure them of your commitment to the company and accountability to duties.
Ask For Options. Once commitment and accountability is reinforced, many employers are more receptive to ideas to make the workplace and scheduling more manageable. Brainstorm options that may be available such as coming to work early, staying late, working from home or taking longer lunch hours to check on the loved one.
Listen to Their Options. The employer may offer a flex-time schedule or job sharing. If it applies in this situation, they also may discuss using personal or vacation time or family medical leave act (FMLA).
Take Care. Caregivers have higher than normal incidents of illness and stress. Taking care of someone else often means the caregiver is the last one who receives help and support. It is imperative to get regular checkups, eat properly, exercise, and get adequate sleep. Reaching out to others will help to stay connected; respite or scheduled breaks will help to recharge the caregiver as their duties continue.
Working together, the employee and employer should be able to find ways to maintain needed productivity while still allowing the caregiving obligations to continue.
 Contact Senior Life columnist  Monica Ruehling at mruehling@thenewsenterprise.com.