During November, for National Caregivers Month, Caregiving.com shared 10 Tips for Family Caregivers – every day. These tips came from other caregivers or Denise Brown and I have been grateful for these as there was always something someone came up with that was new and helpful.
My contributions were about caring for someone with epilepsy and, along with G-J Heins, tips for caregivers while traveling while traveling. The tips today are about the working caregiver (and, yes, I realize it isn't November.)
Considering 42 million Americans work while also juggling their caregiving responsibilities, we need all the help we can get. Here are the 10 tips to help the Working Caregiver I shared on Caregiving.com:
1. Communicate with your employer. Not everyone will be comfortable telling their employer about their personal situation and, sadly, this may not be a good idea with some employers. However, even though it isn’t even necessary to do so but it can be a huge help. Remember, there are 42 million working caregivers so there is a pretty good chance at least some of the people you work with (maybe even the boss) are a working caregiver too.
2. Adjust your schedule. Consider if a schedule change could help with the routine with your caree. Maybe it would fit better with the caree’s needs to have an earlier schedule or a longer lunch. In my own experience as a manager, I have a secretary who requested an adjustment to her hours so she could see her mom in the morning and during lunch. She wasn’t reducing the number of hours she works but making a slight change to when she worked. She is a valuable employee so we didn’t have any problem approving her request. The transition has been seamless.
3. Know the leave laws. Ask the Human Resources Manager (or look in the employee handbook) to see if you are eligible for leave under FMLA (Federal Medical Leave Act). Additional leave laws and benefits vary from state to state but can be crucial in protecting your job. Unfortunately, not everyone qualifies under these leaves (for instance, sibling care is not covered under FMLA) so it is important to check with the HR Manager to find out exactly what you might qualify for.
4. Ask for help. Working and caregiving can be exhausting. Getting additional help for even a few hours a week could make the difference between burning out (fast) and feeling like the situation is manageable. Check home health agencies, benefits provided by insurance or even ask relatives, friends or neighbors for help.
5. Be an Exceptional Employee. No one is indispensable and, of course, employers do have to comply with leave laws. Yet, you can buy a lot of good will by being the best employee possible which can help when asking for something the employer doesn’t have to do.
6. Use the Employee Assistance Program. If your employer has an EAP, you are in luck! This is a terrific service – free to the employee. With just a phone call, there is a person waiting to talk with you and to provide you with all kinds of resources covering a variety of topics – including caregiving.
7. Connect with others. Whether it is with other co-workers in a similar situation or an online support group (such as Caregiving.com), reach out and talk with others in a similar situation. Caregivers are extremely resourceful and can lend a listening ear, helpful tips, support and encouragement. It might be tempting to cocoon yourself away from others but as a working caregiver we need all the connections with others we can get.
8. Organize, Organize, Organize. Yes, I include this in every list I ever make – but it’s true! It is especially true if you are a working caregiver. Organization is not only important with the caree (keeping track of medications, doctor visits, vitals, contacts – plus a million more) but at work. If there are recurring projects, do everything possible to get as much of those tasks done ahead of time when there is a lull or a little bit of downtime. As a caregiver, we never know when an emergency hospital visit or other emergency will strike. It will be a relief to know you are not completely behind on work if you stay organized and ahead of the game.
9. Take a break. I know – everyone says this and it can get annoying (especially if it seems impossible to do). I am suggesting if you have to take care of caregiving duties on your lunch break (making doctor appointments or updating medication spreadsheets or visiting your caree), try to take a small portion of that break just for you. Read a couple of pages of a book (unrelated to caregiving). Close your eyes and take ten deep breaths. Stand up and stretch. Walk around the block. Walk to the corner if there isn’t enough time to walk around the block. Listen to your favorite music during the commute. Take those snippets of time (sometimes just a minute or two at a time) to nourish your soul and refill your bucket.
10. Forgive yourself. You’re going to have bad mornings with your caree and sometimes they will follow you to work. You will get cranky and tired at work. The stress will seem overwhelming and never-ending. Remember that it will be okay and tomorrow is a whole new day. Don’t waste time beating yourself up. You are not alone and you are doing extraordinary work as a working caregiver. Forgive yourself – you deserve it.
There are so many other tips for the working caregiver but I would love for you to share your own tips. After all, we are here to learn from each other!