By Angela Foreshaw-Rouse, Manager, State Operations and Community Outreach, AARP Pennsylvania
Picture this scenario: you’ve got mandatory meetings at the office and have to submit several projects this week. But your ailing mother, whom you care for, has not been well, and you need to take her to the doctor. What should you do?
The majority (60 percent) of Americans who care for parents, spouses, children and others with disabilities also work at a paying job. Not surprisingly, many family caregivers wind up distracted, emotionally drained and physically exhausted.
Of course, every family caregiver’s job is different, as are the demands at work. Manage your dual roles with these steps.
Learn about company policies and assistance programs.
Some companies have programs to help caregivers find community services, counseling, respite care, legal and financial assistance and caregiver support groups. Others have begun offering caregiving leave and flexible work arrangements. Talk to your human resources department or read your employee handbook.
Know your rights.
Ask your human resources department for information about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Have them send a copy to your supervisor as well, if appropriate. Under the FMLA, eligible workers are entitled to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave for family caregiving, without the loss of job security or health benefits.
Talk to your manager.
Be upfront about your role as a caregiver and the demands that it puts on you. It is better that your manager hears this from you rather than wonders what is going on. Most will be understanding: only two percent of people reported that they were fired from a job as a result of being a caregiver, according to a 2015 study. Then to your boss, spell out the concrete steps you are taking to juggle everything. This can help her see that you want to be a valued employee.
Inquire about flex-time.
Even if no formal policy exists, you should ask your manager if he would consider an arrangement to help you accommodate your caregiving responsibilities. For instance, you might say, “I just found out my mother needs physical therapy once a week. While I’m looking for other transportation arrangements, I propose that I work late on Tuesdays so that I can take her on Wednesday afternoons.” While managers, even within the same company, may respond differently, there is a good chance that your request for flexibility will be honored, particularly since you are demonstrating a sense of responsibility toward both your family and your job.
Take care of yourself.
It may seem impossible, even selfish, to take care of yourself when you have so many responsibilities at work and to your loved one. But taking care of yourself is an important factor in your own health and your ability to be a valued worker and family caregiver. From taking a few minutes to meditate, to receiving respite care, look for ways to reduce your stress and demands on your time.
Staying organized can be the difference between managing the chaos and the chaos managing you. Do your best to use your time wisely. Luckily, there are many apps that can help you stay organized, including those that help you manage caregiving duties, health care record keeping, prescription medication lists, and shared calendars. Use to-do lists and calendar reminders. Set priorities, tackle the most important items first and see if others can support you both at work and at home.
Finally, show your appreciation for co-workers and colleagues who pitch in and help you out with your job.