November is National Family Caregivers month. Almost half of all adults in the United States are acting as caregivers to elderly loved ones. This is two out of every five adults. A new study highlights just how much of a financial toll this can take. Given the findings in this study, it may be time to explore ideas that will allow caregivers to keep their jobs while still providing the care that their elderly loved ones need.
The study uncovers a troubling cycle. Many caregivers--especially women--leave their jobs or drastically cut back on their work hours to provide care for their ailing parents. While this is admirable, it comes at a high cost. When their caregiving days are over, a large percentage of these caregivers are unable to re-enter the workforce. Often, too, they re-enter the workforce but are unable to make up the ground they lost on their career track.
This means that, for many caregivers, the financial impact is permanent. They have lower retirement savings and may have sacrificed some pension payments.
The financial impact of acting as a caregiver can, ironically enough, contribute to the caregiver needing assistance in his or her own senior years. The cycle runs as such: 1.) a caregiver leaves or reduces work to care for his or her elderly loved one. 2.) The caregiver is not able to return to work or can only return at a reduced pace to his or her career path. 3.) In his or her own senior years the caregiver is unable to provide for himself or herself as a direct result of his or her caregiving days. 4.) He or she must rely on others for assistance.
Fortunately, there are things that caregivers can do to minimize the impact on their careers. The following steps are merely illustrative and certainly not exhaustive.
Stress management is key. Many caregivers who leave their careers to provide care do it because they cannot manage the stress of working and providing care at the same time. However, there are other routes that caregivers can take. By coming up with a plan to reduce and manage stress, caregivers can take steps to preserve their careers.
Organization is crucial. Some caregivers feel that there simply isn't enough time to work and provide care at the same time. A large factor in this is a lack of organization. Caregivers who are organized can accomplish more in a shorter period than those who are not. Thus, caregivers should focus on organizing their lives and ensuring that they maximize the use of their available time.
Communication with supervisors and colleagues is important. A surprising number of caregivers elect to bear their burdens in silence. They never alert their supervisors or colleagues as to their plight. While this may seem to show strength, it can lead to unnecessary stress and overwork. Caregivers should ensure that their supervisors and peers are aware of their status. This will provide the work team ample opportunities to make contingency plans and possibly restructure organizational workflow. Some supervisors are willing to assign the caregiver at least some work which can be done remotely. This may allow the caregiver to work from home one or two days a week.
Those who are considering acting as caregivers should invest some time researching their options. There are several alternative work arrangements, especially with today's technology. These might allow caregivers to continue working virtually even as they provide the care their loved ones need.
Bauer, J. and Sousa-Poza, A. (2015). Impacts of Informal Caregiving on Caregiver Employment, Health, and Family. Journal of Population Ageing, 8(3). Available at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12062-015-9116-0. Last accessed October 13, 2016.
Fahle, S., and McGarry, K. (May 2016). Women Working Longer: Labor Market Implications of Providing Family Care. University of Chicago Press. Available at http://www.nber.org/chapters/c13800.pdf. Last visited October 12, 2016.