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Balancing Work and Family Caregiving

Part I of a Two-Part Series

Dad and daughter

"How was your day, Dad?" Taking advantage of support services lessens stress for caregiver and loved one alike.
  ________________________________

Janet was all packed to attend an important conference when Dad fell again. She had to cancel at the last minute…and since then, a co-worker has been sent to all conferences instead. Janet is relieved not to have to find backup for Dad’s care, but she worries that her career advancement is now put on hold.

Peggy has early stage Alzheimer’s. While he's at the office, her husband Richard worries about how she is doing at home, and has trouble concentrating on the tasks at hand. But he is hesitant to discuss his situation with co-workers or his boss.

Ellen spends most lunch breaks on the phone trying to sort out her parents’ finances and medical appointments. Too often she is called out of an important meeting to handle an emergency. And then there are her two active teenagers! She is considering dropping back to part-time work—but can she afford it?

If you are one of the 44 million Americans who is currently caring for an elderly parent or loved one, chances are you often feel torn between work duties and the tasks of your caregiver role—transportation, personal care, healthcare appointments, and so many other responsibilities. Many working caregivers report that they:

  • Miss opportunities for advancement and promotion;
  • Cut back to part-time work, or resign entirely;
  • Pass up travel or training;
  • Use all vacation time, personal leave and/or sick days to provide care; and,
  • Take unpaid leave beyond that.

The financial cost is staggering. According to a definitive MetLife Mature Market Institute study, "Caregiving costs individuals upwards of $659,000 over their lifetimes in lost wages, lost social security and pension contributions." Cutting back on hours may also leave caregivers without health insurance.

Adding to the demands on your limited time, you may also be a member of the "Sandwich Generation"—one of the millions of Americans simultaneously caring for elderly relatives and children under 18.

You Are Not Alone!

The good news is, policymakers are beginning to pay attention to this growing issue, and recognize the vital role family caregivers play in the nation's eldercare system. The U.S. government passed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which, in brief, requires companies with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year in case of a health problem—including that of a spouse or parent. In 2000, the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) was established, which includes programs to promote caregiver-friendly employment practices. And last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a guideline that addresses unlawful discrimination against employees who provide care for a family member—including elderly parents.

Employers themselves are also taking notice. Times are changing. Gone are the days when the husband could spend as many hours as needed at the office while his stay-at-home wife cared for his elderly parents. Women are now just as likely to have jobs. Families are smaller, so the caregiving workload is spread among fewer family members. Delayed childbearing has resulted in more Sandwich Generation employees. And above all, as the Baby Boomers begin to hit 65 this year, the number of elders needing care continues to skyrocket. Smart businesses know they need to prepare for caregiver needs if they aren’t to be negatively impacted by:

  • Lowered productivity;
  • Increased absenteeism;
  • Workday disruptions; and, 
  • The cost of replacement and rehiring when caregiver employees must resign.

Many companies are beginning to adapt by enacting policies and providing benefits that respond to the needs of caregivers. They know that the resulting employee loyalty, job satisfaction and increased productivity more than pay for the expense of such programs. Though only a minority of companies currently offer such programs, the number is growing.

If you are currently a working family caregiver, what can you do to help balance your work and caregiving responsibilities? The January 2009 issue of Caring Right at Home will feature "Balancing Work and Family Caregiving: Four Questions to Ask," highlighting points to consider as you assess your situation.

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Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.

 


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