Caring for a Parent While Succeeding at Work

Every year, more and more people are having to balance careers with caregiving. Here are some tactics and advice on how to manage these conflicting priorities so you can succeed in both arenas.

Address Fears and Emotions

It’s normal to feel resentful, conflicted or worried when you have to add caregiving to your to-do list. This is especially true if you work in a very competitive field, if jobs are scarce, or if you’re a female caregiver.

“Half of working female caregivers feel like they have to choose between being a good daughter or a good employee,” says Rebecca Jelinek, managing supervisor of public affairs with Fleishman Hillard in St. Louis, MO. One quarter of daughters in the workplace perceive a workplace stigma in being a caregiver.

Give yourself permission to have those feelings so they don’t make you even less productive. Once you’ve processed your emotions, you can deal with your fears.

Many caregivers worry that their supervisors may not be sympathetic to their caregiving needs,” says Jisella Dolan, chief advocacy officer, Home Instead Senior Care in Omaha, NE. “When we don’t normalize this topic, we make employees less comfortable talking with their bosses about their caregiving circumstances.”

Assess Parental Needs

Next, take a realistic look at the level of care your parents need and what kind of a time commitment that will require from you. Include your parents’ care team in the discussion, and talk with friends who are providing similar support to their parents.

Gathering this kind of information helps you estimate time and flexibility requirements. Maybe you can seek some assistance from family members, friends or caregiving services. 

“Get help,” urges  James Colozzo, a California-based author of You Got to Do What You Got to Do, who cared for his elderly parents for over 20 years. “If you can afford one, hire a responsible caregiver that can help with the daily duties. If money is not available then ask a sibling, relative or friend you can trust to help you when they can.” Learn about in-home and adult day care.

When caregiving assistance is out of reach, use the data you gather to make a more specific ask of your boss.

Talk with Your Employer

This is hard, and it’s OK to feel anxious, notes Venus Ramos, a doctor and fitness consultant in Long Beach, CA. “There is no shame in asking for help. It doesn’t make you a less effective employee. It actually shows that you’re an insightful individual who cares about doing a good job,” she says.

Set aside a time to have a private discussion with your supervisor. Make it clear that want to contribute and be a valued member of your organization, but you need some flexibility and support so you can honor your commitments to your job and your aging loved one.

“You have to be 100% open and honest with your employer about your caregiving situation,” says Tom Ingrassia, a wellness coach in Holden, MA, who is the founder and president of The MotivAct Group, and who ran two successful businesses while being a caregiver. “There will be times when your work may suffer because of it, and it’s best that you have that conversation from the start, rather than wait until there is a crisis.”

Explore Alternative Work Arrangements

Sometimes all you need is the OK to miss some time for doctor visits or other parent-related appointments. Arranging this may only require a conversation with your boss and the co-workers who might have to spell you. Consider finding a buddy who also has an aging parent or young child and would be happy to have someone to back them up, too.

If you need more time off, work with your boss or HR rep to explore the variable work schedules, telecommuting, job-sharing and other options.

Flex-time policies make it easier to juggle the work-life balance with caregiving responsibilities. “A variable work schedule…would help with the various doctor’s appointments, tests, procedures and other care needs depending on your parent’s condition,” Colozzo says.

Some companies allow a job-sharing, in which two people share a full-time position. Other firms embrace telecommuting. If working from home (or the doctor’s waiting room) is appropriate for your job, your company may be amenable on an as-needed or long-term basis.

If your caregiving role is short-term, talk to HR about the Family and Medical Leave Act (for companies with 50 or more employees), which allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid [HC1] leave or those who need to care for family members; up to 26 weeks when caring for a covered service member. Some states have legislated additional family leave provisions.

Balancing job success with caregiving is a tough job, but one that can be rewarding professionally and personally. Use these insights to help you find a way to achieve your career goals and meeting your parents’ care needs.

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