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Report: 67% of Family Caregivers Have Difficulty Balancing Work and Life Duties

New AARP and S&P Global survey finds caregiving benefits have improved, but there is more work to be done

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Rose Wong

When Sharon Wille Padnos goes to work, she spends most of her day assisting elderly Vermont residents who are losing their sight.

When she returns home, the vision rehabilitation therapist spends much of her evening planning her monthly trip to Wisconsin to visit her 86-year-old mother, Jean Wille, who has been steadily declining in a nursing home since suffering several strokes in 2022.

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“It’s getting tougher and tougher because it’s been going on for years,” says Wille Padnos, 59, who lives in Essex Junction, Vermont. “I give, give, give, at work … then I fly to my mom’s and give, give, give for a week. It’s getting harder and harder to balance. I feel like I need to be given to, as well.”

She’s got loads of weary company in the complex world of working adult caregivers, according to a new report jointly released today by AARP and S&P Global: “Working While Caregiving: It’s Complicated.”

spinner image Sharon Wille Padnos, in a sleeveless blue dress, smiles next to her mother, Jean Wille.
Sharon Wille Padnos and her mom, Jean Wille.
Courtesy of Sharon Wille Padnos

Two-thirds (67 percent) of survey respondents reported having at least some difficulty balancing work and life responsibilities. Fully 84 percent of respondents said that caregiving had a moderate or high impact on the stress they feel daily. Even more concerning is that 27 percent of working caregivers said they ultimately had to shift from full-time to part-time work or reduce their hours. 

AARP and S&P Global conducted an online survey of 1,200 self-identified caregivers who work full-time or part-time at large U.S. companies (with more than 1,000 employees) and provide at least six hours of care each week to an adult. The survey was conducted from Sept. 19 to Oct. 17, 2023. 

The number of working caregivers is eye-popping: 61 percent of the nation’s 48 million family caregivers are also holding down jobs. In other words, besides their regular jobs, they also are being asked to do everything from assisting with medical and nursing tasks to coordinating doctor visits and making grocery store trips. Add to that the many hours required to serve as advocates for their loved ones.

“Family caregivers who work are still having a tough time,” says Bob Stephen, vice president of family caregiving and health programs at AARP. “They can’t choose one or the other.”

But their employers can choose to help them.

The single most important thing for working caregivers is flexibility, according to the report. And for the first time, there seems to be some real improvement in that area. In 2020, some 32 percent of working caregivers said they had some flexibility in their work schedules. By 2023, that number had risen to 45 percent, says Stephen.

“There is real growth — but it’s still under 50 percent of employers,” he says.

The cost of caregiving

For Wille Padnos, the flexibility at her workplace — the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired — has never been a problem. However, she’s the only one at her place of employment who is specially trained for her duties as a vision rehabilitation therapist, so a backlog can build up when she takes a week off every month to fly to help her mom.

“I can’t imagine that many workers could do what I’m doing,” she says, noting that she and her husband, Stephen, are both full-time working professionals with reasonable incomes. “A lot of people could not afford to do what I’m doing.”

Not that it’s simple for her.

She’s recently begun using the benefits of the Family Medical Leave Act, but even then, her leave is often unpaid. Her monthly round-trip flights to see her mom cost $350 to $700. And while she stays with a family member when she visits, her car rental costs are typically $500 to $800 per week. 

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Although most of her coworkers are extremely understanding, some have no idea why she’s gone for a full week every month. When she recently returned from a very hectic visit to her mom, one well-meaning coworker asked, “Did you have a nice vacation?”

“They don’t know,” says Wille Padnos. “They have no idea.”

She’s a working caregiver, she says, because she feels so indebted to her mom. Among other things, she recalls, her mom’s house was where the family gathered for years every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But each time she returns home, she says, she feels a bit more exhausted.

“I get home, and the next day, I realize how mentally and physically exhausted I am,” Wille Padnos says. “It’s hard to show up at work and be all smiley and do my job as hard as I can.”

For most working caregivers, the challenges continue to mount. According to the report:

  •  80 percent of respondents agree that companies are more understanding of childcare issues than adult caregiving responsibilities.
  • Half of working caregivers made changes in their work schedules — such as going in early, leaving late or taking time off —because of caregiving responsibilities
  • 16 percent of working caregivers have turned down a promotion, and another 16 percent have stopped working entirely for a period of time because of their caregiving responsibilities. 

Why is this all so hard to change in the workplace? “It may be the culture,” says AARP’s Stephen. “Culture is the biggest enabler and hurdle to creating a supportive environment for family caregivers.” To change that workplace culture, he says, working caregivers need to be more open about their needs. “People are reluctant to talk about it,” he says.

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‘No time for yourself’

Kimberly Moser, 55, is not at all reluctant to discuss her caregiving and work challenges.

She’s a research lab manager at the University of Oklahoma who, besides logging 40 to 60 hours per week at her job, is a family caregiver.

She basically tag-teams with her husband to care for her 83-year-old mother-in-law, Charlene Moser, who has been living with them, in declining health, since 2011.

spinner image Kimberly Moser stands behind her mother-in-law, Charlene, who is seated in a recliner.
Kimberly Moser and her mother-in-law, Charlene Moser.
Courtesy of Kimberly Moser

Moser mostly works during the day and her husband, Gregory, 56, who is a night custodial supervisor at the university, works during the evening. When one is at work, the other is at home tending to Charlene, who suffers from a heart condition, diabetes and some memory issues.

“There really is no time for yourself,” says Moser. “So much of our time is making sure that Charlene is OK. We are there 24/7.”

For Moser, going to work almost feels like an escape from the constant chores of caregiving for her mother-in-law. But sometimes life happens — like when Gregory broke his foot at work and had to stay off his feet for a while.

“Everything still had to happen,” says Moser. “She had to eat. She had to go to the doctor. So I made arrangements with my supervisor and was home a lot more. We have flexible schedules and I have keys to the building, so I came in at weird hours.”

Moser wishes there were more options for her mother-in-law. “It would be nice if there were more programs that would allow us to have a safe, secure location to take loved ones [during the day] so they could associate with others their own age.”

Yes, Moser has had to sacrifice, for sure.

Six years ago, she was offered a job editing a publication in Washington state, but she had to turn it down because of her caregiving duties. Moser and her husband also spent $25,000 redoing the bathroom so that her mother-in-law could take showers independently.

Moser is writing a book about being a working caregiver called Paper People. She chose that title, she says, because on paper many older folks don’t matter. She notes that plenty of older adults, like her mom, have too much money to qualify for help but too little to pay for help. “We have to do better for our elderly.”

​In the meantime, she’s working with a virtual therapist who keeps telling her about the critical importance of her own emotional well-being. “Acknowledge the fact that you are human,” her therapist often reminds her.

Ways to Help Workers

The AARP/S&P Global report identified several ways companies can further support caregivers in their workforce. Among them:

Allow for hybrid/remote work: Support flexible schedules and flexible work locations.

Train and coach: Provide employer-supported access to support groups, career coaching and financial advising resources.

Expand leave policies: Offer paid leave specifically for caregivers and/or flexible leave that can be used to help with caregiving duties.

She’s trying. She’s really trying. But as a working caregiver with no “off” button, she knows that she needs to try harder.

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