I just read an interesting article in US News & World Report. Entitled How Providing Elder Care Affects Your Job Security, the article spoke about the workplace inflexibility people face when caring for parents versus that of their children.
Employees providing eldercare say they have significantly less access to the flexible work options needed to fulfill their work and personal needs, compared to employees caring for a child under age 18 and workers not providing dependent care, according to a survey of more than 2,200 employees ages 17 to 81 by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College. That’s because many flexible schedules were designed with the parents of young children in mind, according to Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, the study principal and head of the Sloan Center on Aging & Work. “Many of those polices were developed in the late 80s and 90s in reaction to the increase in the number of women, particularly women with young children, in the workforce.” Eldercare doesn’t always conveniently fit into the same mold.
In my opinion, much of the work and life stress associated with elder care has to do with our inability to build padding into our schedules. As professionals, it’s easy to fall into the trap whereby our schedules are 100% allocated. But that leaves us unavailable for emergencies, especially as they related to our loved ones. If you plan at 80% capacity, it is far easier to address emergencies as they present themselves. It’s also easy to reallocate that time to your “to-do” list if it becomes clear that your day or week will be uneventful. And if an emergency does occur, you can calmly deal with it without negatively impacting your professional commitments.
The other thing we neglect to do is to create a support network. These are groups of friends and family members who can help you complete specific tasks such as picking up the kids, dropping on prescriptions, etc. Support networks are critical in elder care because a micro-contribution by many people creates a fantastic experience for your loved one, while simultaneously creating a stress-free existence for you.
Finally, I recommend a frank discussion with your employer to inform them of your situation and to reiterate your commitment to accomplishing your work objectives. The reality is that many professions now don’t require you to be in the office to accomplish your job. Things like Blackberries, call forwarding, etc are great tools for working remotely. By proactively discussing your circumstances with your employer, you are more likely to have the flexibility you need to handle both responsibilities.
Having lived this challenge when my mother had her stroke, I learned the hard way that regardless of the time management tools you use, unless you build padding into your scheduled, something stressful will always come up. In the By Families, For Families Guide to Assisted Living, I write the chapter “Making Room for Priorities” to address this topic and provide the stress-reduction and time-management tips that most people don’t think about when their family members additional care.