You have your job -- the one with a paycheck. And then you have your caregiving responsibilities -- helping someone who means the world to you.
Work can be rewarding in more ways than one. So can caregiving. But together, it’s a demanding combination. You may feel like you’ve got more on your plate than you can handle on some days.
A lot of people know exactly what that’s like. Experts estimate that six in 10 family caregivers of adults age 50 and over also work a full-time or part-time job. And about half of the workforce expects to be providing care for an elder in the next 5 years.
You may be managing your loved one’s bills, doctor’s appointments, meals and services, and possibly also providing hands-on care with daily tasks like getting dressed, eating, and bathing -- in addition to your job.
You need a strategy. These ideas may help you care for your loved one while keeping up your career.
How to Manage the Day-to-Day
Get organized. You likely have a lot on your to-do list, so now isn’t the time to try to keep track of everything in your head. Create a family calendar so everyone knows what’s happening, and use it to track activities and doctor’s appointments. If possible, ask siblings to help out, and make a schedule that includes everyone.
Visit your local agency on aging. They can often point you toward community resources that can help you now or may help you later. Find your area agency at n4a.org, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
Read your employee handbook. Your company may have policies on caregivers, flexible work options, and family leave that apply to you. You may also have access to an employee assistance program, which can be a helpful resource.
Keep work separate. As much as possible, try to take care of caregiving duties in your personal hours, rather than during work hours. Schedule calls and doctor’s appointments during your lunch hour, and do your research on your mom’s condition after you’ve gone home for the day.
Have a backup plan. There may be a time when you have to leave work in a hurry. Make sure you have a co-worker or two who can step into your role if needed.
How to Talk to Your Manager or HR
Have the conversation. If you’re caring for a loved one, it’s a significant part of your life, and your boss should probably have some idea. Making it known that you have an important commitment -- but that you’re making every effort to continue to put in 100% at work -- makes you look thoughtful and devoted to your job.
Ask about flexible work policies. You may be able to make your life easier -- while still getting your job done -- by taking advantage of a flexible work schedule that your company already offers to employees. Or if not, you can discuss whether a flexible schedule might be possible for you. In one study, most caregivers -- 68% -- say they had to make work accommodations because of the situation, from changing work hours to taking time off.
A flexible schedule might also mean working remotely a few days a week. It’s a good idea to think about how your boss will feel about the changes you’re suggesting -- and come up with a plan that meets as many of your needs -- and the company’s -- as possible.
Schedule a meeting. This isn’t something you should bring up over coffee in the breakroom. If you anticipate that you might need some time away or an adjustment to your schedule -- or you simply want to let your boss or HR know that a situation is unfolding -- set up a formal time to talk. You’ll both be more focused.
Make it clear that work is still a priority. If you’re changing things at work, make sure your boss knows you have a plan for getting your work done. If you’re leaving early but will be back at your computer at 9 p.m., let her know. It’s easier for your boss to be supportive if you’re still a productive member of the team.
Don’t wait for an emergency to bring it up. If you can, have this discussion with your higher-up earlier rather than later. If you need to change your schedule or start telecommuting, it may take time to make the transition.
How FMLA Fits In
It may happen that you have to use the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, to take some time off work to handle your loved one’s care. The FMLA allows you to take up to 12 weeks off every year, without pay but with job security. Here’s what you should understand about the law:
You must meet certain requirements. In general, you must work for a company with at least 50 employees, a government agency, or elementary or secondary school to be covered, although state laws may cover you at a smaller employer, so do your research. You must have worked there for at least 12 months, and for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to taking time off. And you must work where your employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles. (There are special requirements for airline flight crew employees.)
You might have to use your vacation first. Your employer may require that you use any accrued paid leave you have to cover some or all of any FMLA leave you take. Or you might choose to do this, since your employer isn’t required to pay you during FMLA leave. Check on the details of your company’s policies.
You can keep your health benefits. If your employer is covered, they must maintain your group health insurance coverage while you’re on FMLA time off. But you may have to arrange to pay your share of health insurance premiums.
You don’t have to take your leave all at once. Depending on why you’re taking leave, you may be able to take the 12 weeks in smaller chunks or work a reduced schedule. But if you’re working a shorter or intermittent schedule, your employer can temporarily place you in an alternative job with equal pay and benefits that better accommodates you.