While it’s not always easy for working parents to return to the office after welcoming a new baby, most workplaces strive to create a supportive environment. Nobody’s surprised when new parents are sleep-deprived, have separation anxiety or call the daycare center hourly their first week back. Most workers are parents or plan to be someday so there is empathy for the new working parent. Although stressful, having a new baby is considered a joyous event and colleagues will usually step up while the new parent is out on maternity or paternity leave. Unfortunately working caregivers do not always enjoy the same accommodations.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, 17% of American employees are working caregivers, taking care of older or disabled loved ones. The number of working caregivers is expected to climb considerably because of the aging population explosion. Despite this, many organizations don’t have accommodations in place for working caregivers other than FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act).
Most working caregivers seriously consider quitting their jobs, reducing hours or even taking an early retirement because they don’t have enough time or energy to juggle both responsibilities. When working caregivers exercise these options, employers often suffer. Working caregivers are frequently seasoned, productive employees that the organization does not want to lose. Even when they don’t quit or cut back on hours, working caregivers may experience declines with their mental and physical health which can cause work performance to suffer.
How can an employer be more sensitive to the plight of working caregivers so everyone can benefit? Here are some tips on how your organization can better understand and support working caregivers:
1. Recognize that every working caregiver’s situation is different. While working parents usually have a lot in common, working caregivers’ experiences are often more diverse. For example taking care of an older spouse who has had a hip replacement is different than caring for an older mother with Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Ask working caregivers to be open about their situation. While you want to have boundaries with your employees, it can be helpful to know some details about what they are experiencing. If you know that Mary is traveling every weekend to visit her sick mother, you can make extra efforts to ensure she gets out of work on time on Fridays.
3. Address the working caregivers’ concerns about adjusting schedule adjustment. While most organizations offer FMLA and some even provide flexible schedules, telecommuting or even sabbatical opportunities, some employees fear there will be repercussions if they utilize them. Reassure working caregivers that your organization wants them to take full advantage of scheduling options that can help. Many Baby Boomers, for example, worry their professional image will be negatively impacted if they don’t log enough “face time.”
When employers adapt to better accommodate working caregivers, the organization, working caregiver and the care recipient can all benefit.