About 53 million Americans are serving as caregiver for a loved one, and about 6 in 10 of them are doing so while also trying to earn a living, according to the "Caregiving in the U.S. 2020" report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.
Many working caregivers report health problems, depression, and lost time and lower productivity at work. If you're taking care of an aging or ailing family member, you may also find that you have cut back on community involvement and are spending less time with other loved ones and friends.
If you are frequently distracted at work, emotionally drained and physically exhausted, consider the following steps to find workplace solutions and build a caregiving support network.
Workplace benefits for caregivers
"We need people to know what their rights are under the law, and we need companies to change their culture, because companies can always be more generous than the law,” says Ellen Bravo, the codirector of Family Values @ Work, an organization that advocates for family-friendly workplace policies.
Meet with your manager or human resources representative to discuss the policies and resources available to you. These might include:
- Flexible work options. This could mean a compressed workweek or a modified daily schedule based on need. Job-sharing and remote work are also caregiver-friendly options to explore. Many employers offer flex-time options on a case-by-case basis, even if there is no formal policy.
- Counseling and support services. Your human resources department may offer an Employee Assistance Program or other resources specifically for caregivers, like counseling on reducing stress and managing your time.
- Eldercare referrals. Your company may also offer eldercare referrals through an online database or live consultants. This reduces the burden of having to do distracting and time-consuming research to find services such as medical support and meal delivery for your loved one.
- Share ideas. Employers that have not implemented policies or practices for employees who are also caregivers may be open to doing so. AARP and Northeast Business Group on Health have developed a tool kit to help employers support their working caregivers. Share it with your employer to help them learn more.
- Using paid time off for caregiving. Depending on your employer's policies and applicable state laws, you may be permitted or required to use accrued paid sick days or vacation leave toward time taken off for caregiving. Georgia, Illinois, New Mexico and Puerto Rico have adopted variations on the Eligible Leave for Employee Caregiving Time (ELECT) Act, a model state bill developed by AARP that allows workers to use paid sick leave to care for family members. You may also be eligible for unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.