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Balancing Work and Caregiving

These tips can help you juggle your job responsibilities and your demands at home

En español | You've got important meetings at the office and projects that are almost due. But your ailing father, whom you care for, has been waking up every night this week and you would like to take him to the doctor. Arghh — what should you do?

See also: Need a break from caregiving?

An estimated 25.5 million Americans face challenges like these every day as they struggle to balance work responsibilities with caring for a relative aged 50 or older. Not surprisingly, they wind up distracted, emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

Daughter cares for father at home

It is important for caregivers to also find time to relax. — Glowimages/Corbis

The good news is that many employers are sympathetic to these demands. Some companies have programs to help caregivers find community services, counseling, respite care, legal and financial assistance, and caregiver support groups. Others have begun offering caregiving leave and flexible work arrangements.

Of course, every caregiver's job is different, and even within the same company, different managers may be more or less supportive. These tips will help you manage your dual roles.

Learn about company policies. Talk to your human resources department or read your employee handbook to ascertain your company's policy regarding caregivers. Find out about any benefits your company may offer, such as an employee assistance program.

Know your rights. Ask your human resources department for information about the Family and Medical Leave Act. Have them send a copy to your supervisor as well, if appropriate. Under the FMLA, eligible workers are entitled to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave for family caregiving, without the loss of job security or health benefits.

Talk to your manager. Be upfront about your role as a caregiver and the demands that it puts on you. It's better that she or he hear from you why you're coming in late or seem preoccupied. Spell out the concrete steps you can take to juggle your competing demands. For instance, say, "I just found out my mother needs weekly physical therapy on Wednesday afternoons. While I'm looking for other arrangements, I propose that I work late on Tuesdays." Chances are your company will reward your honesty and sense of responsibility toward both your family and your job.

Inquire about flex-time. Even if no formal policies exist, you should ask your boss if he or she would consider an arrangement to help you accommodate your caregiving responsibilities. For instance, you might ask if you could work from home a day or two a week. You could inquire about a part-time job or job-sharing arrangement.

Don't abuse work time. Whenever possible, avoid taking care of caregiving chores when you should be working. If you have to make phone calls or search the Internet for information related to your parent's needs, do it on your lunch break.

Stay organized. Do your best to manage your time efficiently. Use to-do lists and calendar reminders. Set priorities, then tackle the most important items first. Delegate at work and at home.

Seek help. Turn to the community for caregiving resources and services.

Say thanks. Show your appreciation for co-workers and colleagues who pitch in and help you out with your job. Agree to take on extra work when the dust settles, and be willing to help someone else who is suddenly thrust into a situation you may know all too well.

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