When Family Caregiving Is Your Second Job

Balancing your job and a loved one's care can be a recipe for stress!

Stressed woman at her desk looking worried.

This Labor Day, it's more appropriate than ever to focus on the needs of working family caregivers—those people in the workforce who also are providing care for elder loved ones.

A recent study from the RAND Corporation found that three out of five family caregivers are also in the labor force. The study estimates that these double-duty workers are providing 22 billion hours of unpaid care each year, saving money for our healthcare system, but also costing these family caregivers billions of dollars annually in expenditures and lost wages.

Working caregivers report that their caregiving role impacts their careers in many ways. They feel torn between their work duties and their loved ones' needs, experiencing elevated stress both at work and at home. They often miss out on opportunities for advancement and promotion, and must cut back on business travel and training. They use all their vacation time and sick days to provide care, sometimes taking unpaid leave as well. And if they quit their job to care for their loved one, they often find that they are unable to step back into a position comparable to their former level upon their return to the workforce. AARP also reports that 25 percent of today's retirees left the workforce earlier than they had planned in order to care for an ill spouse or parent.

Leaving the workforce early, taking a long leave from work, or turning down opportunities for advancement usually is a bad idea, financially speaking. It can have a major impact on lifetime earnings. Experts caution that people who sacrifice their paid work to care for an elder spouse, parent or other family member may find themselves, in turn, without adequate resources to fund their own retirement and long-term care due to loss of wages and Social Security earnings, and underfunded pensions or retirement accounts.

As family caregivers consider how they can make it all work, it’s important to know about resources that can help. Take time from your busy schedule to learn about …

Employer programs. Workers aren't the only ones impacted by elder care. It is estimated that American companies lose $25 billion annually due to the lost productivity of caregiver employees. But more companies are learning that caregiver support programs make a big difference by raising productivity, building employee loyalty, and cutting down on the cost of turnover and training. Find out if your company offers family leave, flex time, telecommuting, job sharing, or an employee assistance and wellness program with resources for caregivers. Though some caregivers hesitate to discuss their situation with the boss, not wanting to bring personal problems to work, it's usually best to explain what's going on, and to express your continued commitment to your job.

Support resources and public benefits. Many families think they have to go it alone when it comes to caring for elderly loved ones. But it's important to research the support services that are available. In some cases, helping your loved one move to a skilled nursing or other elder care facility is the best choice. If your loved one lives at home or with you, check into federal, state and local programs, such as nutrition programs, respite care, and financial assistance with healthcare, utilities and other needs. (The National Council on Aging's BenefitsCheckup.org is a good place to begin your search.)

Professional in-home care. More families today are doing the math, coming to the conclusion that hiring professional in-home care is the way to keep elderly family members safe and well-cared-for, while allowing working family members to continue in their careers. In-home care professionals can perform many of the tasks that family caregivers find themselves doing as their loved one's needs increase: housekeeping, meal preparation, transportation, assistance with personal grooming and hygiene, medication reminders and all-around supervision. When there's a reliable professional caregiver at the ready, working family members can focus on their jobs, with a greatly reduced stress level. Stresses in their relationship with their loved one also are lessened. And for caregivers who live at a distance, having a professional caregiver cuts down on those sleepless nights and frequent emergency trips.

If you find yourself serving as the primary caregiver for your loved one, talk to other family members about the situation. Explain the impact caregiving is having on your career, in dollars and cents if need be. Other family members may be willing to contribute to the cost of home care, as a way of providing support for the elder who needs help—and for you as well.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.

Next month: Where do today's retirees plan to live? Their response to a recent survey is surprising some demographers, who are finding that earlier predictions didn't quite hit the bull's-eye. Read "Where Do the Boomers Want to Retire?" in the October 2015 issue of Caring Right at Home to learn more.

Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.