How do you manage work and caregiving responsibilities for older relatives? How do you approach an opportunity that comes to you while you’re caring for sick relatives at any age? – S.W.
I grew up in a three-generation household, with expectations across the extended family that children take care of parents, so I have managed my career from the start with elder care in mind. Since I started thinking about this when my elder relatives didn’t need physical care, my focus was on the financial aspect of building a nest egg to cover elder care costs. Planning from an early stage puts a lot of pressure that is not ideal. However, it is an approach that gives you a long lead time to build reserves.
Balancing a career with elder care issues has proven even more challenging during this pandemic. As Deb Gordon’s post details, 64% of caregivers in one global survey reported that caregiving has gotten harder, with 20% pushed into caregiving for the first time. There are many angles to care – my situation focused on the financial, but there is also the emotional burden, the physical exhaustion, the medical management that needs to be overseen.
Everyone’s situation is different, and I don’t have any additional information on S.W. to offer a more targeted career plan. However, one action available to everyone is to maximize how your current employer can support you. Don’t try to go it alone. Lean on your employer for help.
Check company policies and offerings
Some companies have more support in place than others, but elder care is on the radar of company benefit plans. Benefits can include paid time off for caregiving, flexible scheduling to accommodate medical appointments, care subsidies or backup care. Read your employee benefits manual because there may be a benefit you can use now that you glossed over when you didn’t need it. If the language includes jargon you don’t understand, ask someone in HR to help translate.
Tap into external services via an EAP (Employee Assistance Program)
Even if your company itself doesn’t offer elder care services, they may be able to point you to support via the Employee Assistance Program, a hotline or online portal available to employees to direct them to various external services. An EAP is often bundled into a company’s health insurance benefit. The services it recommends are not automatically covered, so you’ll have to check on whatever you’re specifically interested in, but at least you get ideas, recommendations and referrals. The scope of what an EAP can recommend varies but can include elder care providers, mental health (for yourself as the caregiver!), financial planning or legal services
Negotiate with your manager for what you need
If your company doesn’t offer an EAP or other services, or you’re just not getting what you need, your manager might be able to help you. I had a colleague who was juggling her university job and transitioning her mom into a dementia care facility. There was no official policy on elder care, and besides, my colleague’s needs were unpredictable. Instead, she worked out an arrangement with her immediate manager to schedule her projects and meetings (her job had a lot of face-to-face responsibilities) around doctor appointments and other elder care tasks that had to be done during work hours.
Join or start a caregiver affinity group
I have always been a fan of affinity groups or employee resource groups as a career-building tool because these groups provide you a broad network across levels and functions within your company. In addition to career benefits, a group focused on caregiving specifically could provide emotional support and caregiving tips. Someone in the group might have already navigated the EAP, read the company benefits manual and/or negotiated support from their manager. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel and can crowdsource some inside information and hard-won lessons.
Don’t forget your own self-care and career management on your long to do lis
Hopefully, the additional support you receive from your employer gives you time, energy and mental bandwidth that you can reinvest in yourself. If you do have the flexibility to go to a doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day, tack on an extra 30-60 minutes for yourself. Take a rejuvenating walk, eat a proper lunch, connect with a friend. Or use the time, to return calls about your job search, research new leads or connect with professional colleagues. Getting your day-to-day job done and managing your career for the long-term are two different things. If you’re negotiating a new opportunity, proactively target the above company benefits as part of your compensation. You can and must dedicate resources to your overall career, not just your current job.