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How to support the caregivers in your workplace

Half of working female caregivers feel they have to choose between being a good employee and being a good daughter, according to a new survey by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care® network. In addition, one quarter (25 percent) of daughters find there is a workplace stigma in being a caregiver, and 23 percent believe their supervisor is unsympathetic.

“We are only scratching the surface on the impact of gender parity in aging,” explained Paul Hogan, founder and chairman of Home Instead Senior Care, Inc., at the recent Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) Conference in New Orleans. “Not only are women more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, but they are overwhelmingly the main caregivers for aging parents. And we are seeing this gender parity in aging is intersecting with gender parity in the workplace.”

According to SHRM, working female caregivers spend on average approximately 60 percent more time caring for aging loved ones, compared to their male counterparts (9.1 hours a week vs. 5.7 hours). Furthermore, research from Home Instead® shows that women are twice as likely as men to spend more than 30 hours a week on caregiving, as many women are a part of the sandwich generation—caring for an aging parent or relative while also caring for their own children.

All this time can have consequences at work for those who are lacking employer support. According to the Home Instead survey, approximately one in ten working daughters report that their jobs are at risk. In that same survey, 91 percent of female caregivers report having had to take action to accommodate being an employee and a caregiver. The most common actions include taking paid time off, switching from full time to part time, avoiding certain responsibilities and turning down promotions.

“While it has been good to see the national dialogue about the need for women to ‘lean in’ to their careers as they become mothers, now it’s time for us to begin discussing how women can do the same as a daughter,” says Jisella Dolan, chief advocacy officer at Home Instead. “And while not every working woman will be a mother, most will experience caring for a parent as a daughter.”

Caregiver-friendly business practices

To help employers foster more supportive work environments for employees who are caregivers for an aging family member, Hogan offers the Caregiver Friendly Business Practices:

1. Empower employees to ask for what they need

  • Guilt often prevents employees from asking in the first place. And employers lose good employees when they just quit because they think there is no other option.

2. Have a policy … to be flexible (and human) when needed

  • Ensure managers are trained—and empowered—to demonstrate empathy and to think outside the box when the work-family policy just can’t apply.

3. Have a back-up plan

  • Employees can’t always give a heads-up before a caregiving need occurs, which is why employers should begin putting back-up plans in place to ensure assistance is at-the-ready. This back-up plan can be scalable to the company size—from enacting the same principles as many large companies do for maternity leave for caregiving leave, to small businesses considering partnering with other local businesses to cross-train employees so you have more support during employee caregiving emergencies.
  • Large companies already make this happen with maternity leave. Apply the same principles to caregiving leave.

4. Offer support

  • For large businesses, this may be an Employee Assistance Program that can help find home care, assisted living, or hospice resources. For small businesses, this may be a list of local providers and information on local resources.
  • For all businesses, this simply may be listening and/or connecting employees who may have experience with this personal situation.

5. Respect caregiving needs

  • Employers must give caregiving for parents the same weight and flexibility as caring for children. This means including caregiving for parents in any language outlining family-leave policies.

While women make up two-thirds of family caregivers, these practices that employers must adopt to be more caregiver-friendly, as well as other resources, are gender-neutral.

Tips for the caregiver

A new website recently launched,, includes an interactive quiz that helps educate the adult children of aging parents about the protected family-leave rights that may be available to them. Additionally, the website includes conversation starters and health tips for working caregivers, as well as communication tips for employers and signs caregiving employees need support.

“Unfortunately, many family caregivers often don’t even realize the benefits they are eligible to receive from their employers,” explained Drew Holzapfel, ReACT (Respect a Caregiver’s Time) convener. “Working caregivers might not know they can use FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) for senior care, or they might not know how to access their EAP (Employee Assistance Program). Flex time may also have a stigma to these employees.”

Here are some tips, compiled from ReACT and the Home Instead Senior Care Network, to help caregivers achieve better balance and health:

  • Be realistic. Take time to understand how much you can do to take care of a loved one, do well at your job, and stay healthy.
  • Honesty is the best policy. Be honest with yourself and your employer about what you need. Create a plan that contains ways you can complete your work and still meet your loved one’s needs.
  • Think creatively. Think outside the box to offer solutions that work for you, your employer, and others facing their own caregiving challenges.
  • Get plenty of rest. Think about ways you can enhance the quality of your sleep. This will help you feel empowered and handle life’s daily challenges.
  • Take one day at a time. Face the challenges of the day, but try not to look too far ahead. Caring for an older adult is unpredictable and requires a measured approach.
  • Arrange for help including respite care. Check with your employer about any back-up emergency services your employer might offer through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Think about ways others can help you. Check with your Area Agency on Aging for community resources or contact your local Home Instead Senior Care® office to learn how professional caregiving can help you.
  • Educate your employer. Your employer may not understand the kinds of issues you are facing. Do what you can to explain the kinds of challenges you are facing.
  • Look for ways to give back. If your employer offers flexibility and help, think about ways to pay it forward with your manager and co-workers. If you are able to do something extra, step up to the plate!
  • Be organized. Honing your organizational skills could go a long way toward staying on top of your work and easing your anxiety.
  • Find support. Use your company’s EAP to find out what assistance your employer may offer. Join a support group in your area. Expand your network by looking to your faith community or friends for emotional support. You can connect with others going through the same circumstances. Make time for coffee or a move, or join friends in an exercise class at your local YMCA.

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