Balancing Work and Caregiving

By Dr. Marion Somers, Ph. D., Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.

I know that being a working caregiver is a very difficult challenge. For many employees, talking to your boss about this is the last thing you think you can do. You believe your boss won't be able to relate to your situation or worse yet, that he or she will think you are less competent on the job if you admit there's a crisis at home. But it's important that you communicate in a very direct manner. Bring your boss into your reality by listing out all of your caregiving responsibilities, and I bet he or she will be more understanding.

You have to show your boss how many hours per week you devote to caregiving, whether it's 5, 10, 15, or more. Don't be afraid to look less competent or vulnerable. Opening up may make your boss empathetic to your situation. You also need to find out what company resources are available for elder care, either in the Human Resources department or through the corporate headquarters. American business is waking up to our elder tsunami, and there's hope since it is starting to come to the aide of working caregivers slowly but surely.

There's another absolute for working caregivers everywhere: get support.

I'm talking about tapping into an organized support group that meets to discuss your elder loved one's specific ailment or condition. You'd be surprised at how much you can learn from others who are going through a similar situation. The best place to find where local groups meet is usually the national website that applies to your situation. Just venting can help you feel better. And who knows, you might even find a good local handymen to hire, or a new aide who can help with your caregiving duties.

Don't hesitate to enlist your elder's friends, neighbors, and even old classmates to help with tasks like the cooking, the laundry, driving to doctor's appointments, and the shopping. As long as you tell them specifically what is needed and what the time commitment is, most people will help out. If this doesn't work and there are funds available, consider hiring an aide so you can still take care of yourself.

If you're juggling a family, a career, and you're taking care of an elder loved one, things can get very stressful on a daily basis. It's very important to carve out personal time. Take up a new activity. Learn a new language. Listen to a book on tape while you're commuting. Some people like to take a bubble bath; others like to meditate. If you don't have 90 minutes for exercise, figure out a program that you can do at home that only takes 30 minutes. It's important that you regularly quiet your mind, center yourself, and relax.

Working caregivers often find themselves shoulder to shoulder with fellow employees who have no idea what it is like to be a caregiver. In order to decrease potential misunderstandings and ensure a smooth working environment, it's OK to talk about your caregiving challenges with co-workers. Don't be afraid of being stigmatized or ostracized. As many of you know, almost everyone faces caregiving at some point in their life.

Opening up lines of communication usually results in a more positive outcome than just being angry with co-workers who don't understand your situation.

You also might be dealing with peer pressure at work. It can manifest itself in so many ways. Ask yourself if you're honestly doing your very best on the job. Are you letting your caregiving responsibilities interfere with performance? If everything is in order, face the peer pressure head on immediately. Ask whoever the source of the peer pressure is, ?What is the issue and how can we correct it right away?? It's best to get specific and handle it immediately so things don't snowball any further.

Doctor Marion provides expert advice on the AGIS website. Click here to see her other advice.

©2008 Elder Health Resources of America, Inc.


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