Are you taking care of family members or friends while also working a paid job? You’re not alone; the majority of family caregivers work at some point during their family caregiving journey. Some have supportive employers; others have inflexible work situations, either due to work policies or the logistics of their work. As caregivers, we often feel like we have two jobs because caregiving can be very time-consuming. It doesn’t leave much time for the rest of our life or caring for ourselves.
Whatever your situation is as a working caregiver, these tips may help you find balance:
1. Talk with your human resources department, manager or supervisor about your situation.
If you are experiencing specific problems like the need to take time off due to caregiving responsibilities, suggest solutions like job-sharing, taking leave or telecommuting. You may be able to remain a valuable employee and an effective caregiver with a few adjustments. Be sure to have a backup plan for work if you need to deal with a caregiving crisis.
2. Change your work schedule.
Ask about flexible hours—perhaps starting your workday later so you can help your loved ones in the morning. You might try working a compressed schedule: work four longer days and have the fifth day off (or nine longer days and the tenth day off). If your schedule is constantly changing, you could request a set, predictable schedule so you can plan around it. Some caregivers reduce work time by sharing a job with another employee, or changing to part-time work. If your company offers phased-in retirement you could gradually cut back on hours.
3. Change your work location.
If your company has multiple locations you might consider transferring to a location that is closer to your loved ones’ or to your home, or telecommuting, so you’ll reduce commute time. When my Dad had a hip replacement, I was able to telecommute for a month from my parents’ home, which made it possible for me to help him recuperate and care for Mom, who had suffered a stroke.
4. Understand leave policies.
Become familiar with your company’s paid and unpaid leave options. Can you use vacation, personal days or sick time for caregiving? Some companies offer donated leave options so co-workers can give you their unused leave. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees of all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees who work within a 75-mile radius to up to 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave as well as job protection (you must have been an employee for at least one year and have worked a minimum of 1250 hours in the past year to qualify), and military caregivers who qualify are entitled to up to 26 weeks off in a year. Some states also have family and medical leave policies, and some smaller employers may also offer options.
5. Ask about any company benefits that might help caregivers.
Some employers offer Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits or counseling, information and referral, eldercare assessments, legal assistance, financial counseling or help with insurance issues. A few companies even help pay for back-up eldercare if your caregiving plans fall through and you need to work. Your company may also offer things that help you, such as on-site support groups, concierge services (to help with running errands etc.), health and wellness programs or discounts that help you take care of yourself too.
6. Schedule time for yourself.
You probably feel pressured to meet everyone else’s needs: your loved ones’, your family and other relationships, pets, volunteer work and more, while achieving at work and building your career—not an easy task. So when do you squeeze in time to take care of yourself? I find it’s important to actually schedule time for me on my calendar—even if it’s just a ten-minute time slot, including exercising, connecting with friends in person or online, getting creative or engaging in hobbies and even sleeping, which is often the first thing we sacrifice when busy—but probably what we need the most to keep all the balls in the air.
Some people actually change jobs in order to meet their caregiving responsibilities. I became an independent consultant so I could have the maximum flexibility in work hours and location, and I moved across the country to care for my parents. You may consider a less stressful job or one that is less tiring or depleting for you, so you still have energy for caregiving. Before making a job change, be sure to consult with your financial advisor and plan wisely for your own future.
Amy Goyer, author of Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving, is a writer, speaker and consultant specializing in caregiving. She serves as AARP’s national Family and Caregiving Expert.