As a working caregiver, you are not alone. According to Caregiving in the U.S., 2020 Report, published by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute, 61% of caregivers were employed at some point in the preceding year, while also caregiving. More than half of employed caregivers (60%) worked full-time.
Successfully juggling both sets of responsibilities isn’t easy, especially when a loved one’s health and your livelihood are hanging in the balance. The fact is that the majority of people caring for a loved one with cancer could benefit from some assistance — and not just from family members and friends. They could use help at work.
Below is some guidance on figuring out what kind of support you might need, and how to get it.
Anticipate the Impact Caregiving May Have on Your Job
While the tasks involved with caring for someone with cancer — and the resulting impact on one’s job — will vary, there are some common challenges encountered by many working caregivers, according to Caregiving in the U.S.
Of the employed caregivers surveyed for the 2020 report, 61% report having experienced at least one impact or change to their employment situation as a result of caregiving. More than half of those (53%) say they had to go into work late, leave early or take time off to perform their caregiving tasks.
Other (if less common) ways caregiving impacted people’s jobs included:
- Having to cut back on working hours (15%)
- Needing to take a leave of absence (14%)
- Receiving a warning about performance or attendance (8%)
Those working a minimum of 30 hours per week were more likely to report having workday interruptions as a result of caregiving.
Carefully review your work-related responsibilities and try to anticipate the effect that caregiving is likely to have on them. Then think about what kind of support you might need from your employer in order to get your job done, day in and day out.
For example, do you need to start your workday later so you can assist your loved one at home in the morning? Do you need to switch to a weekend shift, enabling another family member or a friend to care for your loved one while you’re at work? Would reducing your level of responsibility on a particular project afford you more time during the day to get other work done, so that when you leave the office you can focus solely on caregiving?
Get Comfortable with the Idea of Asking for Help
Most people find it difficult to admit that they need assistance — let alone ask for it. And doing so can be especially challenging if they’ve been an independent, self-supporting employed individual for many years — or even just a few years.
But mental health experts say that with a bit of effort, you can mentally adjust to asking for help. Here are some tips:
- Look at the big picture. Everyone needs help at some point.
- Consider the times you’ve pitched in at work to assist others. You were probably happy to do so. Coworkers who are close to you or a boss with whom you get along well might feel less at a loss of how to help you care for your sick loved one if they can so something work-related that, in turn, will ease the burden of your having to juggle both roles.
- When asking for help, learn to pose the request graciously. Depending on how well you know your coworker or boss, you might begin by giving them an “out,” such as: “If what I’m asking isn’t doable, it’s OK. I can figure out another way.”
Exactly what level of support you can expect to receive on the job will depend on a variety of factors, including, for example, how large your company is and whether others on staff have dealt with similar situations. Among some of the more common forms of support are paid sick leave and a flexible work schedule.
According to the Caregiving in the U.S. report for 2020, 58% of working caregivers surveyed said their employer offers paid sick leave; 56% said they have flexible work hours; and 53% report having unpaid family leave. Less than 40%, however, said their employer offers paid family leave.
Smaller companies may be more responsive to workers with caregiver needs, some experts say. That may be because the company has a “family” feel or, on a more practical level, you just may be more visible to your boss/those making the decisions regarding benefits and company policy.
On the other hand, if an executive at a large corporation has had a personal experience with caring for a loved one with cancer or other health problems, he or she may work more closely with human resources to provide support to staffers with caregiving duties.
There are also companies that respond directly to employees’ requests for help with caregiving; so if you are fortunate enough to work for an employee-friendly organization, be sure to speak up.
Create Boundaries Between Work and Caregiving
Don’t make personal phone calls to check on your loved one’s treatment, doctor’s visits, insurance matters or other issues while on the job, unless it’s an emergency. Instead, do that during lunch or a scheduled break. Your coworkers and supervisor will respect you for that, and you may get more help in return when you need it. Making a clear distinction between work issues and caregiving responsibilities may even help you focus more on the task at hand if you stick to doing one thing at a time.
Develop Perspective — And a Plan
For many employed caregivers, it feels as though they have two full-time jobs, and data suggests that that feeling isn’t without basis.
Results from the 2020 Caregiving in the U.S. survey indicate that 21% of caregivers provide 41 hours or more of care each week; for some, that’s in addition to working a 40-plus hour workweek at their paid job.
With approximately 53 million adults in the United States providing unpaid care to other adults, chances are that you’re not the only one in the workplace who spends off-duty hours as a caregiver. But simply knowing that you’re not alone in that arena doesn’t necessarily make things easier.
Start by assessing the specific ways in which your role as a caregiver might impact your “day job,” then determine how best to approach your employer to ask for support. The goal is to find a way to successfully accomplish your paid work while also fulfilling your role as a caregiver.