As someone who is holding down a full- or part-time job AND caring for a loved one at home, you know all too well just how hard it is to juggle your work responsibilities with caregiving. Remember that terrible day when you needed to leave work suddenly – or wished you could – because a medical emergency occurred at home?
As the CEO of the nation’s leading non-profit family caregiver organization, I get asked all the time: “Should I let my employer know that I have caregiving responsibilities at home?”
Well, it shouldn’t have to be your job to educate your employer on why helping caregiving employees is beneficial to everyone, but you just might have to be the catalyst for change within your company.
It’s never too early to begin the conversation with your employer. Talk openly with him or her about your caregiving challenges. You will probably find that your boss can sympathize or knows someone in your situation – and your boss may even be caring for someone, too!
The fact is you are not alone in being a family caregiver. Look around your office – statistically, one out of every five of your coworkers is in the same boat. Workers who are family caregivers are as common as workers with brown eyes. You have strength in numbers. Use your colleagues to create a support system for caregivers at your company. Exchange ideas on caregiving and push for changes that are advantageous to you and your coworkers as well as your employer.
Your employer doesn’t offer assistance to its caregiving employees? Now what? Begin by opening a constructive dialogue with your supervisor. For both financial and moral reasons, caring for those who care is the right thing to do.
But if words aren’t enough to convince your boss, here are some sobering numbers to help demonstrate why your employer should be supporting workers who are caring for sick spouses, partners, aging parents, or children. Over the last decade, the number of "family responsibilities discrimination" cases have almost tripled – resulting in nearly $500 million paid out in verdicts and settlements. Workers win more than half of all cases that are filed, and 67 percent of cases that go to trial.
What type of support would most benefit you and your caregiving situation? Organizations can support caregivers in a variety of ways. Each must develop programs that fit their culture, budget and the needs of their employees. Fortunately, many companies have begun to recognize the need and are already setting examples for others to follow. Best-practices in corporate caregiver support include:
Information: For caregivers, about caregiving issues that concern them.
Referrals and Resources: Links to organizations, agencies, and professionals that offer supportive services.
Education: Training in both general wellness and caregiver-specific issues, using various teaching methods.
Short-term Support: Generic and caregiver-specific counseling and coaching.
On-going Support: Contracted caregiving services on-site and off-site, much like employers do now for child care; providing a private place to make telephone calls.
Flexible Work Practices: Flexible work schedule; letting you adjust or make-up hours; letting you telecommute; policies, practices and benefits that promote work/life balance.
Treating caregiving employees with respect has many benefits, not least of which is the sense of loyalty, commitment, and appreciation it builds – which goes a long way toward retaining valuable employees. Helping caregiving employees benefits everyone. It just makes good business sense.
Employers need to recognize and adapt to the fact that nearly everyone will be a caregiver at some point in his or her life. It’s nearly as certain as death and taxes.