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Working Family Caregivers Say Post-Pandemic Return to the Office Is Fraught With Concern

AARP study finds 75 percent of caregivers worry about juggling work and caregiving duties

spinner image woman wearing a face mask sitting on the floor of her office with her hand on her head looking stressed
oolpicture/Getty Images

For the past 18 months — since COVID-19 shut down offices nationwide — Michail Sklansky has been a caregiver for his two 90-something parents.

But after being let go temporarily from his part-time job as editorial coordinator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the 63-year-old is about to go back to work at the orchestra and may need to let Jewish Family Service LA pick up more of the needed caregiving responsibilities for his folks.

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He's lucky. For the time being, the Philharmonic is allowing him to continue to work from home. But he knows that could change — and his life will get complicated if it does. His dad has a serious heart condition, advanced dementia and hearing loss; his mom has vertigo.

Sklansky's feelings of unease are common. A new AARP study, “Working Caregivers’ Concerns and Desires in a Post-Pandemic Workplace,” finds that the majority of working family caregivers surveyed say the great strain of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased their levels of stress, especially now with many workplaces reopening.

spinner image Berta and Yasha Sklansky
Berta and Yasha Sklansky (parents of Michail Sklansky)
Courtesy Michail Sklansky

Renewed fear, stressors

"As caregivers go back to the office, they have a new set of stresses to deal with,” agrees Bob Stephen, AARP vice president of caregiving and health.

These new concerns are varied, and many focus on how their loved ones will suddenly fare without their family caregiver in easy eyeshot or earshot. For all the illness and devastation COVID-19 brought about, it had one positive effect: It shook up the way many employers view telework and made them much more responsive, if not sympathetic, to family caregiving.

"We hear family caregivers who worked weren't comfortable telling a manager they help someone,” says Stephen. “During the pandemic it became more normal to talk about caring for a loved one. [There was] greater acceptance among employers and more awareness about caregiving."

The July online panel and phone survey of 800 adult caregivers nationally shows that caregivers who must return to in-person work are experiencing myriad concerns, from the guilt and fear of leaving their loved ones unattended, to the fear of contracting the coronavirus at work and potentially bringing home the virus and infecting the person for whom they care.

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Among the report's key findings about working family caregiver concerns:

  • Stress levels are alarming. Some 8 in 10 caregivers say the pandemic has increased their overall level of stress. After all, some 6 in 10 caregivers say that they are hourly workers, which typically makes it more difficult for many of them to work from home. Almost 7 in 10 caregivers say their job is “essential."
  • Responsibilities are growing. Two-thirds of caregivers expressed concern that they will have trouble juggling their responsibilities in the next 12 months. Some 75 percent say they are worried about managing dual responsibilities once they return to the office. And 20 percent say they expect “great difficulty” in managing their responsibilities.
  • Workplace flexibility is critical. More than half of caregivers say they received flexible schedules — and were able to work from home at least part-time — since the pandemic. And more than 4 in 10 say they would consider looking for a new job if their employer rolls back these benefits.
  • Fear of exposure is relentless. Working caregivers are very concerned about exposing the person they care for to the coronavirus or leaving them home unattended while they go to work.

The report comes even as COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are evolving. The CDC now recommends that fully vaccinated people begin wearing masks indoors again in places with high COVID transmissions. This updated guidance comes ahead of the fall, when the delta variant is expected to cause another surge in new coronavirus cases and many large employers plan to bring workers back to the office.

Ask about any new caregiving benefits

For caregivers, says AARP's Stephen, the pandemic was a dual-edged sword, because even as it spread so much disease and mayhem, it also allowed many caregivers to work from home with their loved ones. Now, with many caregivers returning to the workplace, “They have to go back to the way things used to be, with all the juggling and navigating of caregiving."

Stephen suggests that family caregivers who return to the workplace should take the time to sit down with their managers and talk through what works for them. He says it's worth asking if there are caregiving benefits the employer now offers that might not have been available before COVID-19 or if there is a way to have more flexibility so you can better respond to competing demands.

Meanwhile, Sklansky has options, too. He knows that if he must return to his Monday-through-Friday part-time work schedule at his Hollywood Bowl office, he also can return to doing the caregiving for his parents on weekends instead of weekdays.

But in the meantime, he's fearful that the growing delta variant could close many of the same offices that are starting to open — including his own.

"No one knows,” he says. In either case, he is comforted that he has a clear family caregiving plan in place should the virus raise its ugly head again.

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