How to Juggle Caregiving Responsibilities and Work
Holding It Together When Work and Care Are Pulling You Apart
Is there someone who relies on you to take care of them? Perhaps you have a young child, or your partner or another family member has a disability or long-term illness and needs your help.
If you're someone's carer, you'll know how difficult it can be to balance these responsibilities with your work demands. Naturally, you want to give your best to both roles, but there are bound to be days when they seem to be mutually exclusive. The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to manage the demands on your time.
In this article, we'll look at some of the challenges you face as a caregiver, and we'll examine what you can do to manage your responsibilities at work and at home.
Caregiving Responsibilities: A Growing Trend
According to a study conducted in the U.S. by the National Alliance for Caregiving, 65.7 million people (29 percent of the population) provide regular unpaid care for an adult, or for a child with special needs. This figure does not include typical parenting, but focuses on people who have a medical, behavioural or other condition that needs care.
Furthermore, the fact that we're living longer means that these figures are expected to rise dramatically. Living longer doesn't necessarily mean living healthier, and a significant portion of aging adults will need care at some stage.
Add the number of workers who have parenting responsibilities to this figure – according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 60 percent of workers have at least one child under the age of 18 – and it becomes clear that most people need to juggle work and caring commitments at some point in their career.
How Caring Responsibilities Can Affect Work and Productivity
Caregiving responsibilities can have a big impact on your career. Leaving work early each day to pick up a child, or to care for a parent, could make you less visible than colleagues who work a full day. Your boss might also assume that you're "less committed," because of your other responsibilities, which could result in missed opportunities and promotions.
You may also have to put in extra time to keep up with your workload, which adds to the strain. One study, which focused on female caregivers, found that a higher workload correlated with increased symptoms associated with depression.
Another challenge caregivers face is the potential for discrimination. According to the nonprofit organization Catalyst, employees with caring responsibilities for children (including pregnant women), elderly parents, or ill relatives face increasing levels of discrimination. Examples include being passed over for promotion or new positions, lower pay, harassment, hostile work environments, and even job loss.
Caregivers are often more tired, and spend less time on maintaining their own health and well-being, than people who don't have such responsibilities. This can result in "presenteeism," which means being present at your job but not working to your full potential.
Managing Work and Home Responsibilities
Juggling responsibilities at work and at home can be difficult. At times, you may feel as if you're being pulled in two different directions, but the following strategies can help you "keep it together" when you're feeling stretched.
1. Get Organized
As a caregiver, you have a lot of responsibilities. Not only do you have to stay on top of your own work tasks and priorities, but you also have to spend time and energy juggling someone else's needs. This is where good organizational skills are so important. Getting organized will also help you create more time in your day – something every caregiver could use.
One simple way to be more organized is to use a notebook, or an online tool such as Evernote, as a catch-all for your thoughts, notes and To-Dos. Using a notebook allows you to keep all this important information in one place, and you don't have to use precious mental energy to remember everything. Keep your notebook organized by starting a new, dated page for each day.
You could also use scheduling tools such as To-Do Lists and Action Programs to help you manage your time. Be sure to prioritize responsibilities, too, so that you don't lose time on non-essential tasks.
2. Be Honest and Assertive
To avoid being thought of as less committed than their full-time colleagues, many caregivers take on more work than they can realistically handle.
You need to accept that there are only 24 hours in the day, and there is only so much you can do. Be assertive about what you can reasonably take on, and talk honestly with your boss about your situation. Let him or her know what you need, and how he can help. Reiterate your commitment to your role and your organization, but tell him about any upcoming projects or tasks that you might not be able to complete.
While some people might be reluctant to tell others they're a caregiver, honesty is usually the best policy. Your boss and human resources department might be able to offer you more assistance than you expect.
If you need to manage conflicting priorities, try to renegotiate deadlines or delegate tasks, so that you continue to meet your boss's expectations.
3. Create a Contingency Plan
Life happens, and even the best-laid plans can go awry. This is why it's essential to have a contingency plan, and perhaps even a contingency plan for your contingency plan!
Conduct a What If? Analysis for your unique situation, so you can create a backup plan in case of an emergency. For example, what if your child fell ill right before you had to make a critical presentation? What if you were asked to travel for work on a day when you had to take your Mom to the doctor?
Exploring these scenarios encourages you to find solutions before the emergency happens, so that, if something unexpected should arise, you will know how to deal with it.
4. Take Time for Yourself
As a caregiver, your time is your most precious resource, and it is often in short supply. But don't be tempted to skimp on "me" time.
It's vital that you set time aside to rest and relax when people are relying on you. Get regular exercise, visit with friends, or take up a hobby. Taking time for yourself will help you to manage stress, and ensure that you have the physical and mental energy to be at your best.
Carers often become so accustomed to putting the needs of others before their own that they put their ambitions on hold, and don't think about their futures. It's important to set long-term, SMART goals for yourself – both for work and for personal aspirations. Setting such goals will help to keep you on track for what you want to achieve in life. They can also help you stay motivated and keep moving forward.
5. Ask for Support
Because of the high number of caregivers in the workforce, there's a good chance that someone you know is in a similar situation. Don't be afraid to ask for help! The two of you could work together to make sure that your responsibilities are met while you're away.
For example, imagine that you need to leave work early to pick your child up from daycare, and your colleague needs time off in the morning to take his father to physical therapy sessions. You could agree to job-share during the day, and take care of critical tasks while the other person is away.
Emergencies happen, and your colleagues will be the ones to step in and pick up the slack when you need to be away. Whenever you're able, put some goodwill in the bank by helping them with their own work and responsibilities. Reciprocating kindness feels good, and will strengthen your work relationships.
Supporting Caregiving Team Members
According to a study by ACE National (Action for Carers and Employment), supporting carers at work can increase productivity and service delivery by more than 20 percent.
If you're in a leadership role, there is a lot you can do to support working parents and other caregivers on your team. One of the best ways to help is to be flexible. Whenever possible, allow team members to work from home or work flexible hours. Make sure that they are cross-trained in one anothers' roles, so that responsibilities can still be met if someone needs to take time off unexpectedly.
It's also important to address any stereotypes that you or other leaders might have about caregiving. For example, one common stereotype is that caregiving responsibilities will interfere with a person's ability to succeed in a fast-paced or competitive environment. Such cliches can be untrue: recent research by the Federal Reserve Bank, for example, has shown that, over the course of a 30-year career, mothers were actually more productive than women without children.
So, a good way to help the caregivers on your team to be their best at work is to ask for their input. Be honest about any assumptions you might have about caregiving. Put yourself in caregivers' shoes, and give them the chance to achieve their goals. Have a look at our tool designed for managers of caregivers for more tips.
Nearly everyone provides care for someone close to them at some stage in their career, and the percentage of caregivers is likely to increase as the population ages.
If you're in a caregiving role, you might feel that it's impossible to give your full commitment to both work and your personal responsibilities. But there are steps you can take to make life more manageable:
- Get organized using scheduling programs and tools to manage your time more effectively.
- Talk honestly with your boss about your situation, and be assertive about what you can and can't handle.
- Reach out to colleagues for support, and try to help them with their own responsibilities, when you have extra time.
If you're a manager, support caregivers on your team by:
- Enabling them to work flexibly, wherever possible – either by giving them flexible hours or by allowing them to work from home.
- Cross-training staff in one anothers' roles, so that team members can support each other.
- Tackling stereotypes.
- Listening to caregivers' needs.
- Using our tool written for you.
Apply This to Your Life
Write down where you feel most disorganized in your life. For example, are you often late for appointments? Is your inbox a mess? Are mealtimes often delayed, because you're trying to finish off work tasks before the end of the day? Pick the area that causes you the most stress, and brainstorm some small steps you can take to be more organized.
Make a list of the most likely emergencies that could throw your schedule off track, and come up with a contingency plan for each one. Reach out to family members, friends or colleagues, and ask if they'd be willing to help if something unexpected happened.
Set aside some personal time in your schedule. Get some exercise, read a chapter of a book, or have lunch with a friend. Remember, keeping yourself healthy and happy will give you the strength and resilience you need to be your very best.
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