Caring for a senior loved one is a profound act of love, but it can also be challenging — particularly if you’re one of the thousands of people who must balance the demands of caring for an aging family member with the need and desire to work.
For members of the “Sandwich Generation,” juggling a career and caregiving at the same time can be daunting. When you feel that you’re being pulled in too many directions at once, it’s important to continue to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself and getting the help you need — both at home with your loved one, and in the workplace.
The Challenges of Balancing Work and Caregiving
According to data cited by WebMD, it is estimated that nearly six in 10 family caregivers also work a full-time or part-time job. About half of the workforce expects to be providing care for an elderly adult within the next five years.
Many caregivers report spending more than 20 hours a week on care, logging more hours than in many part-time jobs. All of this unpaid labor can add up. As a result, research from the AARP shows that 68% of caregivers have had to make work accommodations because of caregiving — including arriving late or leaving early, taking time off, cutting back hours, changing jobs, or stopping work entirely. The AARP estimates that U.S. businesses may lose as much $33.6 billion per year in lost productivity, due to the challenges faced by full-time working caregivers.
Those challenges can be significant. For one thing, there’s the personal aspect of caregiving. Caring for a loved one can lead to stress, exhaustion, and burnout, which can make it harder to perform well at work. Dividing time means that many caregivers find that their thoughts are always with their senior loved one, even when they’re “on the clock” at work. Meanwhile, this situation can lead to tension or friction with other employees, who may not understand the difficulties of caregiving.
On the flip side? When you’re in caregiving mode, having to always step away for work can make it feel like you’re not being fully present for your loved one. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and guilt, which can be hard to manage. Many caregivers also fear that burning the candle at both ends will lead to them slipping up — that could mean not being there for a loved one when they need help, missing a “yellow flag” for their overall health, or making a mistake with their medications or food.
Punching In: What Family Caregivers Can Do to Manage Work and Care
So, what can working caregivers do to make the most of their time, both at home with their loved ones and in the workplace?
Here are a few strategies that can make it easier to balance the responsibilities of caregiving with the demands of your career:
Talk About Your Caregiving Duties With Your Employer
It’s important to be your own advocate. If you believe that caregiving may impact your work schedule, make time to bring up your thoughts with your employer or supervisor. Be open and honest, and help them truly understand your situation. Make sure to give this talk the proper weight and space it deserves, and be proactive. That is to say, don’t wait for an emergency to come up before you make your needs plain.
Emphasize that work is still a priority, and be gracious about getting help. Look for compromises and solutions that can help give you the flexibility you need, such as:
- Teleworking. Many jobs can be performed remotely, as long as you have access to a computer or phone. This can be a great arrangement for family caregivers who want to be present with their loved one while getting work done.
- Changing shifts or projects. Is there a position or path at the company that would be a better fit for your changing schedule?
- Working “off hours.” Many employers may allow you to adjust your schedule to come in at night or over the weekend, or consolidate your time so that you work longer hours four days a week.
You may be surprised by how willing your employer is to work with you to accommodate your needs — or set up eldercare benefits on a company level. As the AARP notes, studies have documented that implementing eldercare programs “can benefit both employers and employees,” and may help improve “retention, productivity, stress levels, and health among workers.”
Finally, consider looking into your rights as a caregiver under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which make provisions for caring for an aging or sick loved one. FMLA, for example, can allow you to take up to 12 weeks off every year, without pay but with job security and benefits — but it only applies in certain situations (based on the size of the company and the number of hours you work). Do some research and see if there are any federal or state statutes that may be relevant to you.
Make Time for Yourself
Getting pulled in multiple directions at once can be tough — and can make it all the easier to put off your own health and well-being until it’s too late. Caregiver burnout is a very real phenomenon, and studies have shown that many caregivers tend to neglect sleep, exercise, and health care.
As a caregiver, an employee, and a human being, it’s incredibly important to make time for yourself so that you can “refill your battery” every now and then. As a caregiver, there are many important, everyday steps you can take to practice self-care:
- Try to get enough rest
- Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated throughout the day
- Eat nutritious meals on a regular basis
- Make time for physical activity and exercise — even 20 or 30 minutes a day can make a difference
- Look into emotional support groups for caregivers in your area
- Step away from caregiving and work to do something that is entirely for you. Pick up a new hobby, work on a relaxing project, go to the movies, whatever it takes. We all need and deserve the chance to step away and recharge.
Reach Out for Help
Balancing the double load of work and caregiving can be too much to take on alone. Fortunately, you don’t have to face all of these challenges by yourself. When you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Asking for help is one of the strongest and bravest things you can do, and one of the most powerful steps you can take to care for yourself — and make sure your loved one is getting the high level of care and support they need.
Create a caregiving network who can help share some caregiving responsibilities with you, including your senior loved one’s friends, family, and neighbors. You may be surprised by how much people will be willing to lend a hand and share the load. Taking even a few hours of effort a week off of your plate may make an enormous difference, freeing you up to relax or refocus on work as needed.
At the same time, look into local services that can help streamline your duties as a family caregiver, like food delivery; in-home banking services; laundry services; or housekeeping services. Paying for help with these routine chores doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg, and can free up some time to focus on other things, including being present and attentive for your loved one.
Finally, consider looking into respite care services in your area. Available on a full- or part-time basis, respite care helps you connect with a companion who can step in and provide support to your loved one whenever you need a break.
Depending on your loved one’s needs, and your unique schedule as a family caregiver, a professional caregiver can help by providing driving services, assistance with shopping and meal prep, social support and friendship, assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs), and even laundry and light housekeeping. This simple arrangement can give you the chance to focus on other things, with confidence and peace of mind that your loved one is getting the high quality care they deserve.
Want to Bring Balance to Your Schedule? Companions for Seniors Can Help
If you have any further questions about managing your time as a family caregiver, or want to learn more about the proven benefits of respite care for seniors, don’t hesitate to get in touch to keep the conversation going. We’re always here and happy to be your sounding board as you and your loved ones prepare to transition into a new phase of your journey together, and get the help you both deserve.
At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home by empowering them to lead an active and enriched lifestyle, connecting them with their community, and nurturing meaningful relationships.
While helping seniors maintain a higher quality of life, we also hope to provide greater peace of mind for family caregivers who may need some support of their own — including those caregivers who have their hands full with work or family obligations.
We are locally owned in Chicago, with clients in the city and suburbs. All of our companions are trained and bonded, and can assist your loved one in many different ways, including providing assistance with activities of daily living, meal preparation, housekeeping, transportation services, and more.
From one hour to 24 hours a day, we can be there for you and your loved one. We understand that every situation is unique, so we provide a personalized care plan that’s modified to meet each client’s specific needs. As a client’s situation changes, so does our plan of care.
Want to get a handle on your busy schedule? Ready to help your senior loved one enjoy the benefits of respite care? To get started, fill out our convenient online form or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today.