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Off the job 

Caregiving and its effects on your career

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 at the bedside in the hospital emergency room, or being responsible for ongoing caregiving arrangements usually means reduced workplace productivity and often has an impact on our weekly paycheques.

Yes, of course, with modern technology that gives some of us the opportunity to stay in touch remotely using our laptops and smartphones, we can be available, but trust me, it’s hard to be in two places at once and do both well.

Depending on your line of work, your options, and the flexibility and patience level of your employer, time away caregiving uses up vacation time, can be termination-worthy if it happens too often, and at the very least can 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 workday. We’re all busy professionals, so when I looked up from my laptop, where I was busying editing a piece in time for the deadline, 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. Even Dad, the patient, was approving a quote 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 women in their prime earning years.

Workplace warning call
Are you coping? Take this quick test to see if your workplace productivity and advancement are being “interrupted by 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 adjustin
g 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?

Have more than five checkmarks? Before you burn out, speak to your employer about implementing some of the creative options discussed below. 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 just 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 coworkers. Statistics show that one in five employees 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 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.

Check into:
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 flex-time, 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 mom or dad.

You owe it to yourself to investigate workplace health promotion and prevention programs to reduce stress and provide access to caregiving resources. Some corporations are encouraging caregiver support groups and lunch-and-learns. Remember, you are not alone. In 2000, 77% of employees had some type of responsibility for elderly relatives, according to the Conference Board of Canada. Many companies are even developing educational materials and providing copies of Caregiver Solutions to employees to employees to help them to more easily understand options and make arrangements.  

Caroline Tapp-McDougall is a healthcare journalist and author of The Complete Guide For family Caregivers.


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 healthcare costs, save lost performance time.

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