Color & Control:

Caregiving in the Workplace

Off the job: First up, let’s look at the impact your caregiving will have if you are still in the workforce. Whether you are a salaried or hourly employee taking time off to escort a friend or family member to a doctor’s appointment, sitting around nervously waiting in the bedside in the hospital emergency room or being responsible for ongoing caregiving arrangements usually means reduced workplace productivity and often an impact on our weekly paycheques. Yes of course, with modern day technology that gives some us the opportunity to stay in touch by remote using our lap tops and smart phones, we can be available but, trust me, it’s hard to be in two places at once and do both well.

Flexible? Depending on your line of work, your options and the flexibility and patience level of your employer, time away caregiving use up vacation time, be termination worthy if it happens too often, and at the very least be disruptive to workflow and regular routines.

The hospital became our office
When my husband went into hospital to have what he prefers to call a “procedure” our daughters came to the hospital to show their support, despite the fact that it was a work-day. We’re all busy professionals so when I looked up from my lap top where I was busying editing a piece in time for deadline, screen the waiting room was full of people who were “connected”. I felt a little better realizing that it wasn’t just our TYPE A family using technology to stay in touch with the outside world and  participate in what was going on at the office or the job site by remote. Even Dad, the patient was approving a quotation for a client up to the last moment before they took him into the Operating Room.  Welcome to caregiving in modern times.

Just the facts
Research shows that caregiving costs the Canadian economy…a year in lost productivity and that is one of the top concerns for employers in this day and age given the fact that most caregivers are.


Workplace Warning Call

Are you coping? Take this quick test to see if you workplace productivity and advancement are being interrupted by your eldercare responsibilities. Are you?

• Taking extra personal phone calls related to your parents?
• Not completing or decreasing the quality of your work?
• Unwilling to work overtime or handle business travel?
• Calling in sick or taking time off to provide support or care?
• Being late or adjusting work time without notice?
• Rearranging your schedule to accommodate other responsibilities?
• Unable to accept extra projects or new assignments?
• Requesting reduced hours when work is busy?
• Having to turn down a promotion or relocation opportunity?
• Avoiding issues at work because you’re worn out?
• Feeling depressed or tense?
• Distracted and therefore at risk of on-the-job injury?

Do you have more than five of the above? Before you burn out, speak to your employer about implementing some of the creative options discussed above. Having a supportive work environment will allow you to become a better caregiver while making you more productive at work.

If you are presently balancing eldercare and career responsibilities at the same time, fear not. Many employers are beginning to recognize the challenges of eldercare and the loss of productivity it can cause. Just as they launched child-care initiatives but a few short years ago, there are some attractive eldercare programs that have begun to pop up. Expect more. Take a leadership role in sniffing out new opportunities and pioneering programs that will help both you and your co-workers. Statistics show that one in five of the employees around are facing the same thing you are.

Be creative, be open, be ready to flex and you just may be able to work out a win situation that’ll keep both you and your employer happy. Hint: Don’t hide your eldercare needs; there’s nothing worse than the office rumour mill for spreading the wrong story.

Caregiver leave: Similar to maternity leave, a number of leading edge companies already allow a six-to-eight-week family or extended leave that can be used to provide short-term care for elderly family members. Based on recent public opinion research, the federal government has been discussing the possibility of programs to support a caregiver leave of absence.

Flexible work arrangements: Think flextime, a compressed workweek, a shorter workday or job sharing.  Sometimes, depending on the nature of your job, an employer may be willing to accept the option of working at home on occasion.

Special compensation plans: Additional services may be available through your benefit programs and there may be “items on the menu” that you have never noticed before. Check them out and ask about employee assistance programs that are at your disposal. Family and personal days off are also great ways to cover time off that you need to care for mum or dad.

Workplace wellness: The stats are in: research has shown that a company would realize a possible $3:$1 return on their direct costs in work-life programs. Simply put, when your company invests in helping you to manage your eldercare issues, they are investing to:

• Save absenteeism
• Cap employee turnover,
• Reduce your stress and health care costs
• Save lost performance time.

You owe it to yourself to investigate workplace health promotion and prevention programs to reduce stress, provide access to care giving resources. Some corporations are encouraging caregiver support groups and lunch and learns. Remember you are not alone. In 2000, 77% of employees were having some type of responsibility for elderly relatives according to the Conference Board of Canada. Many companies are even developing education materials and providing copies of Solutions magazine (our Canadian magazine written for family caregivers) to employees to help them to more easily understand options and make arrangements.

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