Dealing with the challenges of working and caring
When the responsibilities of caring (aged or child) take their toll...
As ones life situation evolves, salary and job security may no longer be the most important factors in evaluating job suitability. There are times when work-life balance is perhaps the most important consideration, as shown by a recent survey that found 72% of people consider it critical to any job prospects¹. Why might this be? Well, according to a Gallup survey, approximately 17% of full-time employees also act as caregivers², i.e. they care for an infant or an elderly/diseased relative. When you have someone under your care, going home on time or being available during emergencies is crucial.
There is a shift towards recognition of family values in job selection in recent years. Parents prefer to spend more time with their children, raise them and groom them and adult children prefer to take care of their elders, especially if they are impaired. This has been excacerbated by the continuing trend towards dual income families over the past half century, leading to expectation of a certain quality of life. But caring for someone and working full-time brings huge challenges. A survey by National Alliance for Caregiving reports that 70% of caregivers suffer-work related difficulties because of their dual responsibilities and almost half of caregivers feel they have no choice but to fulfill these duties³.
This can lead to physical exhaustion and/or mental and emotional stress. It may also be a major cause for missed work-days and eventually resigning⁴. A survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving found that 39% of caregivers eventually quit their job to care for a loved one, and 34% are forced to do so due to lack of flexible hours⁵.
So how can a workforce so dedicated to caring for their family and at the same time determined to climb the career ladder, successfully juggle both? The answer is simpler than you may think; talk to your employer. When such a high percentage of the workforce also works as caregivers, employers tend to make concessions and adapt to suit the situation.
What are your rights?
As a caregiver, the most important thing is to know your rights:
- Having someone to care for doesn’t necessarily make you disadvantaged or even less worthy of a job. In fact, with the growing trend towards family care, most governments now have laws to prevent discrimination against an employee if they are also a caregiver. So if you feel that you are being treated unfairly because of your dual responsibilities, you should consider your options, with the first port of call being a discussion with you immediate manager, or if you feel uncomfortable discussing it with them, take it up with human resources.
- You are entitled to ask for flexible work arrangements. Many employers understand the value of caring for your loved ones and the financial burden associated with it. Therefore, it is possible that, once aware of your situation, they may allow flexible working hours, job-sharing, partial work-from-home or even working from a different office that may be closer to home.
- You can also ask for leave. Depending on your contract, you may be able to take paid leave, unpaid leave or even compassionate leave.
As employers, it not only benefits your employees, but also your organisation as a whole by catering to the needs of the employees that also serve as caregivers. Speaking purely in monetary terms, it can save your organisation significant turnover costs if you were to retain your caregiving employees. Moreover, it boosts employee morale and gives them a sense of confidence to be more open and discuss any other issues they may be facing at work. Those who are not caregivers may even become more committed to attend and perform as they see their employer acting responsibly and compasionately!
Some ways that organisations can help caregivers are⁶:
- Providing flexible work arrangements such as job-sharing, work-from-home or flexible work hours etc.
- Allowing leaves in case of emergencies
- Create a culture of awareness and support – ensure employees are informed about the options they have and that their fellows know to help them out whenever they can
- Implement caregiver-friendly work policies
- Providing an employee assistance plan to promote discussions about emotional distress experienced by the working caregiver
- Frequently communicate with caregivers to see how they are coping and if there are any other steps you can take to help them
One of the biggest changes an organisation can make to aid caregivers is cultivating a culture of sharing. Giving your employees a comfortable atmosphere to share their problems and stressors, with both colleagues and management, can reduce mental stress. This can be done through an open-door policy or perhaps coffee breaks or team lunches in the break room. This is not specific to caregivers, and a culture such as this may also help uncover other problems that employees are facing.
SHAPE assesses the factors that employees deal with outside of the workplace and to what degree it affects their ability to perform. It guides employees on how to improve their work-life balance and tells employers how they can help their employers perform to the best of their abilities, given their circumstances.
¹Jay, Rachel. 2017. "Flexjobs Survey Finds People Without Kids Want Work Flexibility, Too". Flexjobs.
²Cynker, Peter, and Elizabeth Mendes. 2011. "More Than One In Six American Workers Also Act As Caregivers". Gallup.Com.
³Weber-Raley, Lisa, et al. 2015. "Caregiving In The U.S. 2015". Aarp.Org.
⁴Mortensen, Jesper, et al. 2016. Scandinavian Journal Of Work, Environment & Health 43 (1): 5-14. doi:10.5271/sjweh.3587.
⁵Weber-Raley, Lisa, et al. 2015. "Caregiving In The U.S. 2015". Aarp.Org.
⁶Kahn, William A. 1993. Administrative Science Quarterly 38 (4): 539. doi:10.2307/2393336.