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December 26, 2014

Caring for a Dependent and Building Your Career

Ruth Hill

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"I don't believe it! I just saw Lucy sneaking out early, again! I've got enough to do without covering for her, too. Has she forgotten that we're meeting with the head of department tomorrow and we still have to get that report ready? She's so lazy!"

If there's one thing Lucy isn't, it's lazy. She's one of the hardest-working people I know.

Each morning, she rises early to help her elderly mother into the bathroom. Iris came to live with them after she had a fall – she's relatively independent but increasingly frail, and needs help with little things like opening jars or doing up buttons.

Next, the kids. Lucy prepares breakfast for Tom, 8, and Betty, 3, while her husband coaxes them out of bed. She lays out their clothes for the day and gets herself ready while they eat. She then makes sure that Iris has everything she needs, before dropping the kids off at school and nursery on her way to work.

At lunch time, Lucy catches up on her other chores. Today, she had to pick up Iris's medication and call the agency to make sure that an in-home care assistant would be coming over. She also found a message on her voicemail saying that her nanny is ill and won't be able to pick the kids up, as planned.

That's why Lucy had to leave work early. Later on, after dinner, her husband helps put the kids to bed and cleans up the kitchen while she finishes off the report she didn't complete at work.

When she finally collapses into bed, it's close to midnight and, although she feels bone-tired, Lucy can't sleep. She feels guilty because she can't give her family the attention they deserve. And she worries about her colleagues at work, who have to cover for her when she's away. She's not immune to their frowns and guarded whispers.

In many ways, Lucy is lucky. Her husband does what he can, and they are able to afford help from nannies and care assistants. But what would happen if one of them became ill? Often, caregivers make time for others by spending less time on themselves - a recipe for burnout, at home and in the workplace.

Our article on How to Juggle Caregiving Responsibilities and Work looks at some of the challenges people face as caregivers and suggests strategies to help you "keep it together" when the demands on your life seem overwhelming. It also offers practical tips that you can use to support members of your team who might be struggling to cope with demands on their time.

You can also find out more about balancing your responsibilities in - and out - of work with our articles on Combining Parenthood and Work, Doing More Than One Job and Finding the Right Work-Life Balance.

For Lucy, and many people like her, this is just another day. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, juggling work responsibilities with the care of someone with special needs is a way of life for more than 47 million Americans. Add to this the number of workers who have parenting responsibilities, and it becomes apparent that most people have to juggle work with caring commitments at some point in their career.

Question: How many of the people on your team have others who rely on them for care? Do their responsibilities ever get in the way of their work? Now look at it from another perspective - are there any working practices in your organization that make it harder for them to give their best to both of their roles? Share your suggestions for how we can care for the caregivers, here.

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