Discussing Caregiving with Your Boss

It's never easy being a caregiver. But when you ad the title "full-time employee" to your duties, it can be overwhelming. How do you balance the needs of your loved one and make sure there is a regular paycheck to help you finance that care?

Consider these statistics from a July 2011 Gallup poll:

  • One in six full-time or part-time employees consider themselves caregivers, spending at least 15 hours weekly assisting a loved one.
  • 24% said caregiving kept them from working more.
  • 36% of caregivers said they missed 1 to 5 days of work because of caregiving.
  • 30% of caregivers said they missed 6 days or more of work because of caregiving.

Clearly, when it comes to caregiving, some sacrifices must be made.

Taking caring of a loved one is deeply personal, so should you tell your boss what you're going through? Or keep him or her on a need-to-know basis?

"From my experience, the answer is a little of both," says Stacy M. Brooks, who worked as a senior marketing manager for a global IT services company. She spent six months caring for her mother.

"Let your boss know the situation, but then step back and take cues from their response and actions," Brooks suggests. "For example, if they say, ‘Take whatever time you need,' then you'll know they support the decisions that you as the caretaker have to make. If they are not as understanding, then you know that you must try your best to juggle work and caregiving."

For Brooks, who was able to work virtually, juggling work and caregiving meant always having her computer turned on. She would complete her work and answer emails every chance she could, in between doctors appointment or while she was at her mother's hospital bedside.

Brooks admits that at times she was underproductive in her job simply because there weren't enough hours in the day to complete her work tasks and care for her mom in her final days. And she says she paid the price with reprimands from her boss.

That's one of the reasons Charity Kuahiwinui, an independent human resources consultant, suggests employees be upfront about caregiving. "Your caregiving is going to come out in work performance, and it usually is in a negative way," she states. By alerting your boss or supervisor, you can be proactive in tackling the challenges and create a partnership with your employer, instead of viewing them as an adversary.

The amount of stress employees face - on the job and as caregivers - is another reason to let your boss know what's going on in your personal life.

"When a caregivers is open with the supervisor it provides an opportunity to work with the employee," says Jan Riddle, PHR, the human resources manager for Oxford HealthCare. "Supervisors might have some resources for the employee, and it creates camaraderie and support."

Where Riddle is employed, the company engages with caregiving employees whenever possible to offer them a flexible schedule so that they can do their best while managing both roles.

"We seek out employees that we know are in the caregiving mode," she adds. "Sometimes it's just to talk and listen to what they're going through. You need to encourage them as a caregiver and employee to get enough sleep and connect with support groups."

Brooks can attest that the stress of working and caregiving was immense. She found support through weekly sessions with a therapist. Support groups are another great resource. Unfortunately, the poor working relationship Brooks shared with her boss led her to seek employment elsewhere. Now, she says, she has found a group of co-workers and supervisors who support her in grieving the loss of her mother and ask how they can be of assistance.

Deciding whether to share your caregiving journey with your boss is an individual decision. Only you know the kind of relationship you have with your employer. But as Kuahiwinui, points out, it is usually in an employers' best interest to work with caregivers, since it can cost a business 30% to 80% of an employee's annual salary to replace them.

"People are afraid of (employers and HR managers)," says Kuahiwinui. "But they're there to help."

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