By Sonya Stinson
If you're finding it tough to balance caregiving with the demands of your career, you're not alone.
Sixty percent of workers say their caregiving duties have affected them on the job, from having to cut back hours to getting warnings about missing work, according to a June 2015 study from the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute.
Eldercare expert Barbara McVicker, a national speaker, author and host of the public television special "Stuck in the Middle: Caring for Mom and Dad," says employers are starting to pay more attention to the way this issue impacts some of their more experienced and highly valued workers.
"CEOs only understand what a caregiver is going through once they or their spouses start to go through it," McVicker says. As McVicker learned when she was invited to speak to a group of chief executives about caregiving, these corporate leaders often begin to face their own issues with aging parents around the time they enter the C-suite.
“Just when they are at the top of their game, they get the phone call that [their own] mom has fallen and needs to be taken care of," she says.
Know Your Rights
For health-related care, you have some legal rights to time off. If you work for a private employer with a staff of 50 or more, federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles you to as many as 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12 month period to care for a family member. States may enact more expansive leave policies, and several have done so. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island provide paid family and medical leave, while other states have expanded the benefits and eligibility for unpaid leave.
How to Negotiate with Your Boss for Family Leave
For non-medical situations—or even medical emergencies for employers not covered by the FMLA or state leave programs—getting the time you need will depend on your skill at negotiating for some flexibility from your boss. Here are four tips from McVicker:
1. Let your employer and co-workers know you can still get the job done, you just need to do it in a different way. While you may be reluctant to discuss your caregiving struggles at work, McVicker says it's better to be open than leave people to wonder about what's distracting you.
2. Find strength in numbers. Another reason to talk about your caregiving at work is that it allows you to connect with others who are in the same boat. The result may be the formation of a support group, or simply a larger contingent of coworkers to help raise your employer's awareness of the issue.
3. If you work for a major employer, ask your human resources manager about what employee assistance programs are available. A number of large companies offer access to geriatric care managers who can help with things like finding nursing or assisted living facilities, transportation and back-up care. There may also be provisions for coworkers to do job sharing or donate sick days to one another.
4. If you work for a smaller company that doesn't have these kinds of programs and policies in place, again McVicker advises just being upfront. Explain your situation to your supervisor and offer to work together on a solution—perhaps flex time or doing some work from home—that allows you to meet both your job responsibilities and your loved one's needs.
Finally, if you can't disconnect entirely, consider working with your employer to make arrangements for remote work. Video conferencing is made easy with free services like Google Hangout and can help you connect to your team virtually.
And always remember, McVicker says, “The caregiver has got to be their own advocate."