How to Manage at Work: When You’re a Caregiver at Home

By LeAnn Thieman

Are you one of the 54 million Americans who care for a family member? Are you one of the 20 to 50% of employees who tend to a loved one before going to work, then return to care again after a long hard day on the job? For these workers, feeling torn between both “jobs” and trying to perform well at each, causes so much stress that working caregivers are often plagued with more mistakes, conflicts, and stress-related illnesses. These simple tips will help ease that stress:

Talk to Your Employer Honestly: Tell your supervisor about your caregiving demands at home. Make an appointment to discuss this at a time when you are better rested and feeling your strongest so you can state the situation in a professional, emotionally controlled manner. Don’t offer excuses, but instead reasons for changes he or she may note in your attendance, work schedule, or attitude. Explain why you may need to decline additional hours, a promotion, or a transfer. Reassure him or her that you are committed to the organization and its peak performance and will remain accountable to your duties.

Ask for What You Need: Once you’ve reinforced the above commitment, your employer will be more receptive to ideas to make the workplace and schedule more manageable for you. Come prepared with suggestions that will help – for example, coming to work early, staying late, working from home, or taking longer lunch hours to check on your loved one, make personal phone calls, or take a nap. Brainstorm with him or her about other workable options. Often employers allow flexibility in the use of comp time, sick days, and vacations. In many organizations, fellow employees are allowed to donate accrued time off to help a caregiver during a crisis period.

Take Care of Yourself: Caregivers have higher than normal incidents of illness. Those taking care of someone with a chronic illness have a 63% chance of dying early; another 63% say depression is their most common emotion. Caregivers often become so depleted they cannot maintain the stamina to continue caring for someone else. Therefore, you must take time daily to nurture yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually.

  • Physically: Eat well-balanced meals on a regular schedule. Take a daily multivitamin. Exercise regularly, even if it’s simply taking a walk. As difficult as it may be, strive for a minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep a night and nap when possible. Get regular medical checkups and treatments for aches and pains before they turn into something more serious.
  • Mentally: Pay attention to your own feelings and emotions and seek counseling if needed. While it’s impossible to always leave the stress and heartache in the parking lot, try to keep emotions in check at work. Vent feelings to trusted family members or friends, not coworkers. Schedule time for yourself. Use relaxation or stress management techniques, such as meditation, visualization, biofeedback, and yoga. Stay actively involved with friends and hobbies. Create a support network or join a support group.
  • Spiritually: Take time, even as little as 15 minutes per day, for prayer or meditation. Read or subscribe to inspirational magazines or books to uplift your spirits. Seek the counsel of a minister or religious leader you trust and respect.

Seek Support: Ask for help. Friends, family, and church groups are often eager to assist and are only waiting to be asked and directed. Find respite care so you can regularly take time out for yourself. There are countless community, state, and national resources to support you not only at work, but also at home. Many cities have programs to assist the caregiver.

The National Family Caregiver’s Association is an excellent place to start in accessing this information. Another great resource is the Area Agency on Aging. With the passage of the National Family Caregiver Support Program in 2000, all AAAs have a mandate to address the needs of family caregivers. Finally, if needed, you may be able to utilize the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For more information on this national policy, please contact a local labor attorney or human resource specialist. Following these tips will help you better tend to your job, your loved one, and even yourself.

LeAnn Thieman is a speaker, nurse, and co-author of the New York Times best seller, Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul as well as the recently released, Chicken Soup for the Caregiver’s Soul. For more information, please call 877-844-3626.

[From the April/May 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]