In May we shared Advocating for Yourself, The Caregiver, At Home. Today, we share Six Ways to Advocate for Yourself, The Caregiver, at Work.
According to AARP, one in six US employees spends 20 hours per week, on average, as an unpaid caregiver, assisting an older relative. Today, working mothers (there are 20 million in the US) have a lot of support from employers like child care assistance, flexible spending accounts for childcare, etc. But what about working daughters and working sons? There are 53 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States. Where is your help? The answer is, there is not a lot of it, which is why you must learn to advocate for yourself at work.
- Start Planning Now
Caregiving will happen to you. Take a good look at your situation. How old are your parents or other potential people who may need you to provide care for them? The average age of someone receiving care is 69.4. The average age of the caregiver is 50.1. If you are a woman reading this, you are almost twice as likely to be the primary caregiver than your male counterpart. Start conversations about end of life care so you are not surprised later. Ask the people in your life about their expectations.
- Talk to Your Supervisor
Sadly, only 56% of caregivers report their work supervisor is even aware of their caregiving responsibilities. Managers often report they did not know about an employee's situation, but wish they had. Instead of leaving this vacuum for your employer to fill with speculation, talk to them. Tell them what is going on. Take your opportunity to shape the narrative.
- Talk to Human Resources
Forbes reports that up to 80% of employees never look at their full benefits package. It is likely you do not know what your company actually offers. Do they offer paid time off for eldercare? Some do. What about flexible spending accounts geared towards paying for eldercare expenses like medicine and adult day care? By talking to Human Resources you can find out what is actually covered.
- If HR does not have any support they can offer, show them what other companies are doing. Introduce them to EASE: Employee Assistance Solutions for Eldercare. (www.seniorcare-nyfl.com/ease.html). Or, find what other companies offer and share that. You can find the Best Places to Work for Working Daughters 2022 here. The more Human Resources knows about the needs employees have the more they will be able to advocate for those needs.
- Speak Up: It Is Okay To Cry At Work
Share your story with your coworkers. Most caregivers are afraid of the backlash of sharing their caregiving story, choosing to hide reality by blocking out “busy” time on their calendar instead sharing the truth of their life like, “Mom’s Chemo Appt.” But, if you do not speak out about the reality of your life, how will anyone else know it is okay to?
- Create Your Own Support Network
With 1 in 6 people providing unpaid care to elderly relatives, it is likely that your coworkers are going through the same thing. Do what you can to change the culture. Create a Caregivers Lunch Hour where you and your coworkers come together and share local resources and success you have had. Perhaps you could wrangle a younger co-worker to be your planner. Or, ask your boss to hire an intern to plan events for you. College students need credit hours. When you are in the thick of it do not deny or downplay the utter exhaustion and loneliness you feel. All change happens when people share their story.
- Keep the Long Term Perspective
As sure as caregiving comes, it also goes. When you are in the thick of it do not deny or downplay the utter exhaustion and loneliness you are sure to feel but remember caregiving ends. The average length of time for elder caregiving is 4 years. You will want to quit your job at some point. But, unless you have at least 30 years of income in the bank, do not. Do everything you can, but remember you can not do it all.
Special Note: If you are management level and above, you have the responsibility to understand this issue now. Your employees need more support than you know. They will go the extra mile when they feel supported. If you would like to talk about your benefits package and how it can be enhanced to support caregivers, call us at (212) 913-9963 or (239) 330-2133. We can help you build a more robust benefits package.