Submitted on behalf of John Paul Marosy:
In today's tight labor market, many employers are looking for ways to retain good employees - a fact that works in your favor. With this in mind, here are some practical strategies that may help you deal with your elder care/work situation:
1. Let your manager and your close colleagues know what is going on so they provide support. When caregiving demands require you to take time off, or cause you to give less than 100 percent at work, people will notice. If you don't share information about your situation, others may think you are simply not pulling your weight. Some co-workers may feel resentful. You may set yourself up for a poor performance appraisal - which will hurt your chances of getting help. Talk to your supervisor before a conflict develops. If you are not comfortable bringing up the subject, consider contacting the EAP or Employee Relations staff at your work place (see #7, below).

2. Honestly assess your job. Write your responsibilities down on a piece of paper. Ask yourself whether the job still makes sense for you in your situation. If you decide you want to stay in the job, make a list of what you need in order to cope.

3. Consider the employer's viewpoint. When you tell your manager what you need, be sure to also show that you appreciate your manager's responsibilities and the objectives of the company. You are more likely to achieve a positive result if you can talk about both your needs and the company's goals for your position.

4. Be specific with your employer. When you meet with your manager, be clear about what you want. For example, if you are caring for someone recovering from an operation, you might suggest that over the next four weeks you be allowed to come in one hour later and leave one hour earlier each day rather than asking for "flexible hours."

5. Set a timeframe for assessing new work arrangements. Suggest that any change in work arrangement be time-limited, so that you and the manager can assess the situation after a reasonable period of time to determine if it is working from both your points of view.

6. Be proactive and creative. You know your own workload and how to manage it. If you are dealing with a crisis and can't concentrate on work or plan ahead for work requirements right now, arrange for willing co-workers to pick up your responsibilities during the time you need for personal leave. If your work is such that you can do some of it at home, propose an arrangement for a schedule that assures you will produce a specific amount of work at home on a daily or weekly basis.

7. Make use of resources at your workplace. An increasing number of employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that provide confidential counseling for stressful situations. Others offer elder care consultation and referral services: an "800" number where you can reach a trained elder-care counselor who will help you identify and secure needed services for you and your loved one. At some companies, the Employee Relations staff can also help. As a neutral third party, Employee Relations professionals bring together employee and supervisor to resolve workplace conflicts.

8. Know your rights. Family caregivers have legal rights in some circumstances. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) applies to organizations with 50 or more employees. Workers who are eligible for FMLA leave may take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave in a twelve-month period when an employee or family member has a serious health condition. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation, not only for persons with disabilities, but also for individuals who must care for persons with a disabilities.

Balancing elder care and work responsibilities can be a real challenge. Still, today's caregivers can work out arrangements that make it possible to do both. The essential first step is to make your needs known. Speak up sooner rather than later. You and your loved one will be glad you did!

John Paul Marosy is director of the Caregiver Community Action Network of the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA)

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