Working and Caregiving: Communication, Flexibility, Creativity

When caregiving calls, can we leave work behind?

On today’s to-do list:

  • Decorate the outside of the house;
  •  Start and finish Christmas cards;
  •  Pick up Robert and bring him to our house;
  •  Help Robert maneuver through the myriad of Christmas decorations I have (hopefully) just installed;
  •  Have Robert start his Christmas cards; Expecting him to finish in one day is unrealistic – actually expecting him to finish before Christmas is a stretch; (Yikes! I should have started a month ago!)

The list goes on but you get the idea. It’s the holidays and there’s a lot to do!

Before tackling my to-do list today, I joined Denise on this morning’s “Table Talk.”  I join Denise the second Saturday of each month to talk about the issues facing working caregivers.  As Sally Abrahms, a blogger on, shares from the AARP Public Policy Institute, “61 percent of family caregivers age 50-plus work either full-time (50 percent) or part-time (11 percent).”

That’s a lot of caregivers impacted by policies and benefits in the workplace that may or may not be sensitive to the needs of those caring for a family member or friend.  On the show today, Denise and I talked about how the holidays add extra stress to people already stretched thin with their responsibilities: work, family, caregiving, self and now the holidays.

How does the working caregiver juggle not only these responsibilities but the very real possibility of the unexpected (a hospital stay or illness) happening?

For starters, with communication, flexibility and creativity.

Employers don’t always know what an employee may need and it’s going to take a while for the law to catch up to the ever changing needs of both the employer and employee.  I know this first-hand after fighting for an expanded definition of family under CFRA.  Sibling care is not covered under either FMLA or the California version of it (CFRA).  If the law hasn’t caught up yet, then employees need to ask for what they want from their employer.  Whether it’s a more flexible schedule or paid sick time to care for a relative not covered under FMLA or CFRA, communicating the employee’s needs to the employer is the first step to change.

Working caregivers can be the hardest working employees an employer has.  Add to this the benefit of having long-term employees and these are the employees employers do not want to lose.  Flexibility – from both sides – is essential to making this working caregiver situation work.

Coming up with creative solutions so the working caregiver does not feel compelled to quit their job and the employer maintains a high quality employee is not easy but it is possible.  Flex-time, job sharing, a combination of working from home and the office are just a few creative solutions.

Caregivers are very adept at creative decision making and problem-solving in their caregiving role and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be in workplace either.

In our conversation this morning, Denise tells a funny story about how she “creatively” managed her full-time and part-time jobs and Denise wonders what you have done to “creatively” manage both caregiving and working.  (I challenge anyone to come up with a crazier situation than Denise, though!).

As a working caregiver, how do you manage both the caregiver and employee roles?  What creative solutions have you suggested or implemented as an employee or employer?  I’m interested to know how people have resolved this conflict without leaving the workforce.

You can listen to the show today via the player below.

I’m off to tackle my to-do list!  Wish me luck or the next picture I post could be me tangled in holiday lights and Christmas cards!

Listen to internet radio with Denise Brown on Blog Talk Radio
Profile photo of Trish

About Trish

I am Robert’s older sister and a freelance writer and am also a full-time Legal Administrator for a wonderful law firm (no, that is not an oxymoron). I am the caregiver for my youngest brother, Robert, who has suffered from uncontrolled epilepsy his entire life. In his late-40s now, he lives with me and my husband. I have somehow managed to navigate the maze of social services and government programs available to help Robert and continue to be amazed at the amount of time and persistence that is needed to do so. Robert finds happiness in simple pleasures like doing word search puzzles and watching his favorite shows (Family Feud and Jeopardy, of course!)

7 thoughts on “Working and Caregiving: Communication, Flexibility, Creativity

  1. Profile photo of ejourneysejourneys

    Trish, I loved this morning’s show! Warning: Long rant ahead!

    I was one of those personnel who supported an office of up to 40 people, plus staff in a satellite office. I also ran a freelance business to make ends meet.

    I’ve supported my partner fulltime since 2001. For a year before I quit my job I worked in two departments simultaneously, since in addition to office support I was a “value added” (read: no extra pay; no overtime) writer and editor, coauthoring one client deliverable, editing other deliverables and proposals, writing for the company newsletter and website, and giving a seminar to teach colleagues how to write government documents in Plain English.

    One reason I stayed with the company for as long as I had was because it offered domestic partner benefits, something I had lobbied them for (and also paid taxes on — since unlike spousal benefits, DP benefits are taxed as part of income). Without DP benefits, my partner had no health insurance, which had been the case for our first two years together.

    For years I had tried to advance my position, especially given my “value added” work. One colleague told me that I would have to quit my job and then come back as a vendor to make any progress, which is what I ended up doing (she was right). My supervisors ignored the paperwork I submitted (since I kept track of everything). One told me at one review that he was giving me a lower score because, “If I didn’t, we’d have to promote you.” Both ignored the company directive that my annual review had to also include goal-setting for the following year. My application for job reclassification got deep-sixed. I took the issue to Human Resources, which resulted in my supervisors being notified to put my paperwork through, but that was never enforced. I kept pushing; they kept ignoring.

    When I quit my job in 2003, my hourly pay (not counting freelance income) was almost equivalent to the “housing wage” a worker had to earn to afford rent and utilities for a typical 2BR apartment in my state and still have cash for food and other necessities (source: National Low Income Housing Coalition). My partner and I lived in a marginal neighborhood with a fairly high crime rate.

    My partner denied there was anything wrong with her health and her vitals were good, so for all intents and purposes she wasn’t being treated for anything at that time. She just had many, many complaints and some bizarre behaviors — to the point where a neighbor and friend told me, “She’s only going to get worse.”

    That leads me to my “crazy situation,” in which I chewed out my boss’s boss (an Executive VP) and the EVP’s second-in-command.

    Proposal season at the company meant long hours, including all-nighters. Often, when not pulling an all-nighter, I would take a cab home after public transportation had stopped for the night. (At least the company paid for the cab.)

    On one particular night my partner called me at around 12:30 a.m. to tell me that the neighborhood delinquents were smashing car windows up and down the block (including her truck window). I had to get home as soon as I could so that we could clean up the glass and get the window covered.

    I entered the office where the visiting EVP and second-in-command were stationed (their home office was in another city) and explained my situation.

    The second-in-command huffed, “Well! You’ll just have to move to a better neighborhood!”

    I blew up at them. Big time. My coworkers could hear my yelling aaaaaaall the way down the hall.

    It still didn’t advance my position any (it didn’t get me fired, either). The only change was that the EVP, who addressed me during his visits only to ask me to do something (while he chatted up the non-support staff), made sure from then on to ask me how I was doing, how things were going, etc. He was very solicitous of me from then on, but that’s as far as it went.

    My freelance work didn’t have me doing the crazy zipping around that Denise did, since I worked out of my home. The closest I came to that was for one client whose weekly radio shows I transcribed. My client needed the transcipt in time for the next morning’s news feeds.

    That meant that as soon as I got off work I zipped to my client’s studio, where a cassette tape in an envelope with my name on it was taped to the door or left with the night watchman. I got home, grabbed a quick dinner, and got to work. Some time in the middle of the night I emailed the transcript to my client, to meet my deadline. Shortly thereafter it was time for me to report to my day job.

    • Profile photo of TrishTrish Post author

      ejourneys, I read your comment last night and was just so irritated by that boss of yours! You know, I can hope that employers do the right thing but know that they do not always do so. Sigh. All we can do is try to change the employers where we can and then work around those we can’t change. As a manager, I really try to do my best to balance the needs of the employees with those of my employer but it can be difficult. I usually get accused of favoring one or the other (mainly accused of favoring the employees) but it’s something I will just have to live with in order to do the “right” thing. It’s interesting that you stood up to your EVP without getting fired. I think we can stand up quite often without actually getting fired (even though it might feel like there’s a real possibility). I appreciate you listening to the show and sharing your experience!

  2. Profile photo of Roaring MouseRoaring Mouse

    I always thought of juggling my caregiving with my daughter and EP as balancing waves of water. When you go to the beach you wait until the waters are calm enough to step into. That is always how I saw balancing everything I did. I just kinda surfed the waves. :-)


    • Profile photo of TrishTrish Post author

      That’s a great way to think of it, RM. Of course, sometimes we get thrown off the surfboard, but you just have to climb back on and try again! :-)

  3. Profile photo of ChrisChris

    Trish/Denise: What a great show on Saturday morning. I was able to listen to the show streaming online through my iPhone which was I hooked up to my car radio. Not an easy feat for my technology skills, but it worked! You two sounded great in stereo!

    Caregiving has taken a bite out of my professional life over the past ten years. Yet in the long run, I would rather have this type of bite, than the bit that often comes from the corporate world. I have experienced that type of bite on a couple of occasions, and it is not pleasant. The worst day in caregiving is 100% better than the feeling of the corporate bite.

    I have often migrated to jobs in the past 10 years where I know there will be an ‘understanding’ of my caregiving roles and duties. Employers and employees who have never been in a caregiving role often, do not understand what it means to care for another person in this type of setting. We have to continue to educate them because as was mentioned on the show…who wouldn’t want to hire a caregiver, we are the most dedicated and responsible people and always go above and beyond the call of duty.

    • Profile photo of TrishTrish Post author

      Chris, I’m happy you liked the show! It’s awesome you were able to listen in your car – I’ll have to try that to see if it works! I have to agree with you about the corporate world although I’m not really in that world (the legal world has to be about as bad). I joke that I’ve only worked in legal so don’t know what it’s like anywhere else but it is like being in a dysfunctional family. I look forward to one day being able to expand my freelance career and step away from the coporate/legal world. I agree that caregivers make the best employees!

      • Profile photo of ChrisChris

        Thanks, Trish! I surprised myself with the ability to get the iPhone to work with the car stereo! I am continuing to step outside my comfort zone so that I can expand my freelance career; we can share notes with each other so that we can make it work for us! So glad to get to know you and everyone else on!


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