The Juggling Act of the Working Caregiver

When work and caregiving feel overwhelming, try these resources.

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- Posted on Aug 15, 2019

A woman speaking to three of her colleagues about caregiving.

Lisa Weitzman, LISW-S, is the BRI Care Consultation™ Manager of Business Development at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

The report you’ve spent weeks researching is due today. You need to proof it to make sure there’s not a single mistake. You’ve been ignoring calls at your desk all morning, but then your cellphone buzzes. It’s your dad. He can’t remember his email password, and the batteries for the TV remote are dead. He’ll just “run to the store.” “No!” you tell him, as quietly as possible. “I’ve got the car!” (Plus he’s not supposed to drive.) “That’s okay,” he says. “I’ll walk.” “No!” spurts out of your mouth again, as you assure him you’ll get the batteries on the way home. “What’s for dinner?” he asks.

Your mind jumps to frozen food and a sink full of dishes. You’re frazzled and tired, having spent half the night awake, worrying about bills and mentally scheduling the week ahead: Dad’s doctor’s appointment on Wednesday, a meet-up with his old friends on Thursday ... You haven’t taken your regular walk in days and you’d love to see your own friends, but time always seems to be in short supply. Oh, and you need new glasses, but the eye appointment alone is enough to break your bank—and when would you even have time to schedule it?

If this scenario strikes a familiar chord, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. In 2019, approximately 73 percent of employees are responsible for some type of caregiving, and one in six workers are caregivers for an older adult. This role is fulfilled not just by middle-aged Americans: 6.2 million millennials make up 24 percent of unpaid caregivers, and one study shows that 14 percent of them have left the paid workforce completely, unable to balance work and caregiving responsibilities.

The financial implications of caregiving on the working caregiver are immense. The services provided by unpaid family caregivers are valued at $430 billion annually, about the size of the annual Medicaid budget. In return, caregivers aged 50 or over lose, on average, $300,000 in wages, pensions, retirement funds and benefits over their lifetimes, while 70 percent of caregivers experience work-related problems (decreased hours, unpaid leave, demotions and job performance issues) directly tied to caregiving. An additional consideration is the emotional toll of caregiving, which includes increased rates of anxiety, depression, stress, chronic diseases, isolation and strain from the changing dynamics within a relationship. 

With an impact so profound, why is the subject so readily pushed aside? Why is it easy for us to share with our co-workers the daily triumphs and struggles of our children, but rarely the issues we confront while caring for mom, dad or other older loved ones? After all, so many of us need “reliable, affordable care so we can go to work and provide for our families. But, we also need to work to afford said care” (“Leading With Care,” [email protected]). And in this “real-life, day-to-day paradox” lies the essence of the problem: the stigma around caregiving.

Employees fear that managers will think that they are not “all in” at work if their caregiving demands are known, which will negatively impact promotability, salary and benefits. As a result, working caregivers may try to hide their external commitments, which only serves to exacerbate the stress and strain they experience. If this is your reality, you likely know that the energy spent just on dispelling any negative misperceptions can negatively impact productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism at work.

So, where can you turn for help? On the personal end, you might:

  • Contact your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits provider or your HR department to find out whether you are eligible for caregiver benefits.
  • Consult with local community-based organizations to determine whether periodic respite or adult day care is suitable to your situation.
  • Give yourself permission to practice self-care. Because time is at a premium, you might even explore telehealth options you can access during lunch – or even on the drive home from work.

On the professional end, you might:

  • Do what you can to create a workplace culture that supports working caregivers. Normalize caregiving by starting a dialogue on your experiences.
  • Educate others about the caregiver benefits they may be eligible to receive. Help to convert service offerings into real benefits.
  • Give kudos to the caregivers on your team as you strive to transform the corporate culture into a truly caring force for change.
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