Career or Caregiving?

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Finding time to take a break from caregiving can be challenging enough as there are often more than enough jobs involved to keep one hopping from dawn until dusk. In addition to the many caregiving jobs requiring one’s attention, a caregiver must also manage his/her own full-time job. A caregiver’s full-time career can prove to be a major hurdle and employed caregivers can often face the problem of time management with working what can easily prove to be the equivalent of two full-time jobs. Caregivers must find ways to balance their careers, their caregiving duties, and their own lives. Personal respite time can take a back seat when caregivers are already working 40+ hours per week, much of their time, energy, and focus is already spoken for by an employer and caregivers find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place.

Careers, of course, provide financial income, stability, and long-term benefits – none of these are easy (nor realistic) to simply walk away from. While caregivers remain on the job, they also often can feel an immense obligation to both their employer and their loved one(s) – leaving the caregiver torn and searching for creative means to multi-task and balance his/her personal life, caregiving responsibilities, and the job demands. Frequently, this doesn’t turn out well – the caregiver may run errands before or after work or even on lunch hours, expect the office phone to ring with a familial emergency, become resentful towards his/her employer, or try and survive through a full day’s work after a sleepless night (from worry about a loved one’s health condition). What makes matters worse is that caregivers may prefer to not openly chat about Mom or Dad’s declining health around the office water cooler and keep their personal and professional lives separate.

Working caregivers need, however, to speak up. In return, employers need to understand and accept that their staff with senior parents may be distracted or unable to commit to a full-day’s work schedule. A working caregiver might not be completely focused on the job, need an afternoon off to take Mom/Dad to a doctor’s appointment, and/or be too exhausted or stressed to function. Compromising with that caregiving staff member can often be preferable for an employer who will not want to lose a responsible, long-term employee nor undergo the costly processes of advertising, interviewing, and training a new replacement.

As a former co-caregiver myself (Mom had Parkinson’s disease and Leukemia while Dad had Alzheimer’s disease), my answer was to work part-time. Reducing my hours at the office allowed me more time to help my parents (and to take my own respite breaks …) while still providing me a modest income and keeping my foot in the door with my employer. There are other feasible options you can also consider:

Flex-time: Although the standard workday is from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m, you may not be restricted to these hours. Your employer may be willing to have you work another shift or rotating hours (perhaps 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. one day and noon – 6:00 p.m. the next day?). I know one woman who routinely takes Thursdays off from work so as to spend time with her aging mother.

Job-sharing: Could you split your workday responsibilities with another person? Your employer could hire a temporary worker (so as not to have to a long-term commitment) to fill in for you while you are away.

Paid or Unpaid Leave: Working caregivers may approach their employers about taking a leave of absence. This will not only allow you more time to be a caregiver, it will also provide you with the security of having your job when you return.

Book an appointment with your company’s Human Resources department and don’t be shy with emphasizing your situation and making your request. With our country’s aging population, employers will have more senior staff with their own senior parents. By accepting and compromising with these employees, you can get the respite time you need and deserve and an employer may be viewed as being trendsetting, thoughtful, kind, and innovative – the arrangement can work well for all parties!

Please watch for my further discussion and tips on caregiver self-care in the months ahead on The Caregiver Network.

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About the Author

Rick Lauber , Author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians

Rick Lauber is the author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver's Guide (both books are published by Self-Counsel Press) - valuable and practical resources for family members, friends, spouses, and/or partners providing care to seniors. Lauber, a former co-caregiver for both his own aging parents, has written extensively about caregiving and senior’s issues for print and on-line markets, has guested on radio talk shows and television news programs, and serves, on a volunteer basis, on the Board of Directors for Caregivers Alberta.

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