There are multiple caregiver studies out there that indicate a large percentage of the current workforce in the U.S. are also unpaid caregivers to an aging parent or family member with a disability.
One of the biggest struggles for caregivers is finding time to take care of themselves. Between juggling the responsibilities of a career, and managing life at home, caregiving for aging loved ones can get overwhelming very quickly.
Following are seven ways to help you manage the day-to-day challenges of providing quality care while also managing a job — so you can succeed in both arenas:
Have a Private Discussion with Your Employer
Caregiving is universally understood to be a difficult and time-consuming task. Let your boss know about your situation and explore alternative work-from-home options a few days a week. There may be times your work will suffer, so it’s a good idea to be clear that you are committed to becoming a valued member of your organization, but you need some flexibility and support so you can honor your commitments to your aging loved one as well.
Explore Mental Health Support Options
Talk with your HR department to see what self-care resources might be available to you to help relieve some of the stress that accompanies being a caregiver. Many companies offer work-life balance flex time, and telehealth or other support for mental health resources, like counseling, nutritional wellness, and life coaching. See if they offer access to an in-person or online time-management program that can benefit you in both roles. Access to a discounted or free gym or fitness membership is also a great option to help you stay mentally and physically healthy.
Address Fears and Emotions
Burn-out is high among women in particular since they tend to shoulder the bulk of the caregiving responsibilities, and most worry their boss won’t be sympathetic to their situation. Feelings of resentment, guilt, and worry can build up over time, and they can be hard to shake.
When things get overwhelming, give yourself permission to feel what you feel, process it, and try your best to move on with your day. Pop in some ear buds, close your eyes for a few minutes, and open up an app like Calm to take a mini-break and find your center again.
Use All of Your Earned Time Off
Take a personal day when you need one and be sure also to plan out your annual vacation days so you are getting a break on a routine schedule. If you’re not in a position to take an extended vacation because of your caregiving commitments, look to take a series of long weekends instead. They can be very invigorating and effective at restoring your energy and good spirits. Take your sick days too, when needed, so you can rest and recover more quickly.
Create a Larger Support Network
Step back and take a good look at the level of care your loved one really needs and consider the time commitment that’s required. Reach out to your care circle of family, friends, and neighbors to see if you can share the load with others.
Becoming more thoughtful and knowledgeable about this kind of information helps you estimate time and flexibility requirements so you can better plan the help you need from family, friends, or senior care services.
When caregiving assistance is out of reach, use the information you gather to make a more specific ask of your boss.
Carve Out a Little Social Time for Yourself During the Day
One big challenge to being both a caregiver and a professional holding down a job is that there is little-to-no-time for anything fun for yourself — but there are many ways to build a little social time into your day!
Find support groups online with others who are experiencing the same responsibility pressures of balancing work and caregiving and exchange best practices for succeeding. Look for unique ways you can fit in some social time during the work day, like carpooling with a friendly colleague, meeting a friend for lunch or a gym session on your lunch hour. Getting out for a daily walk with a colleague is also a great way to burn off some energy and get some exercise.
Explore Alternative Work Arrangements
Striking the right balance between your career and your caregiving responsibilities can be very rewarding, both personally and professionally.
It’s particularly helpful to know it’s OK with your boss to miss some time for doctor visits and other caregiving-related appointments. Arranging this may be as simple as a conversation with your boss and co-workers about your adjusted schedule.
If you need more time off, work with your boss or HR department to explore variable work schedules, work-from-home options, job-sharing, and hybrid positions. Flex-time policies are more common than ever now, so it’s more possible that employers will allow some flexibility in your schedule to better balance your caregiving responsibilities.
If your caregiving role is short-term, talk to HR about the Family and Medical Leave Act (for companies with 50 or more employees), which allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid [HC1] leave for those who need to care for family members, and up to 26 weeks when caring for a covered servicemember. Some states have legislated additional family leave provisions.