Caregiver Spotlight Q&A on Balancing Caregiving and a Job

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As part of our caregiver spotlight series, Caregiving.com spoke with caregiver and author Fern Pessin about the challenges of caregiving and employment both prior to and through the pandemic.

Caregiver and author, Fern Pessin


What are some of the unique challenges working caregivers are facing right now?

The way we work in recent days is vastly different from everything this generation has ever seen. We are all adapting on the fly. On one hand, working remotely has offered people a chance to get closer to family and spend less time commuting but on the other hand, if you’re working remotely, family interference can interrupt work productivity. Whether you’re caregiving for young children or an aging person with physical or cognitive challenges, their ability to comprehend your need for quiet ‘work time’ is non-existent. They see you, they need you, they want you, and you get distracted. 

To hire help to care for those that need it means bringing in outsiders who may be carrying Covid-19 with them. That adds to the tension and anxiety. Long-distance siblings are unable to provide respite because they can’t/shouldn’t travel during Covid-19. 

When a parent or spouse is isolated in a senior living community, the ability to see, touch, and hear that person is limited and the depression and guilt of the caregiver can become all-consuming. Without the ability to physically connect, people with dementia are forgetting their children and spouses. The ability to provide comfort and reassurance is relegated to a small screen being held in front of them by paid caregivers.   

All of this intensity leaves people prone to a host of stress-related maladies that may impact their ability to focus and, as a result, productivity may decline. 

What gender disparities affect how caregivers are treated in the workplace?

Men may be stigmatized or teased for being emotional about caregiving for their parents. Caregiving for a spouse or child gets less teasing, but men are expected to be able to balance everything. Men in supervisory roles are often afraid to share their challenges with direct reports because there’s a fear of appearing weak or soft. There could be fear that a peer will outperform someone distracted by caregiving and thus receive more lucrative projects which lead to elevation in the organization. Men tend to “power through” which can take a physical and mental toll. 

Women are also impacted because they are most often the ones that step-up to provide physical care. They may be called away from work for emergencies or need to help manage conversations with doctors, lawyers, utility companies, handymen, and so on. This can lead to a reduction in productive work hours, being distracted, and changes in workload to allow for more flexibility. All of these modifications can put the brakes on opportunities to advance and grow. Not to mention the financial impact--the loss or reduction of health benefits and the bearing on retirement plans.

What has been your experience balancing work and caregiving responsibilities, pre- and during Covid?

I moved from the Connecticut/New York area to Florida so that I could be close to my parents and provide local support. I gave up the businesses I ran and became a full-time chauffeur, personal shopper, nurse, legal consultant, financial analyst, secretary, chef and more for my parents. When my parents moved into independent living, I was able to go back to my love of writing and found it easy to talk about the things I learned as a caregiver in-between the phone calls, texts, and virtual errand-running I still do for my parents. Now I get to help other caregivers and seniors learn to navigate these waters. 

Ironically, Covid has essentially given me more time to take care of myself because I physically am unable to be there for my parents. I’ve become better at supervising paid caregivers to do what I was doing on my own before. I’ve been able to ask my sister and brother to help my parents with more things. If I am handling things remotely, why can’t my siblings do it from New York? That’s been a blessing. And they feel more involved, so that works out. 

I’ve gotten better at using technology to “see” my parents and have them see me. We do full family Zoom holidays and celebrations with my siblings from New York and their kids. 

I started a new business where I'm helping people write their memoirs so that I can earn money while working from home and still have time for parental emergencies. That’s been a joy for me. Since lots of people are home and have time, this is a good time for others to get the bucket-list wish of writing a book done!

What policies and practices do you think employers need to either revise or implement to better support people through caregiving and grief? 

With Covid, every business is evaluating workflow, flex time, need for physical space, necessity of meetings, uses for technology, etc. Productivity and getting the work done--producing results however you can--is taking greater priority over putting in the hours in-person. I would normally say that caregiver support groups on-site would be very helpful. I now recommend virtual support groups which help employees remain connected to each other over shared challenges and contributes to employee retention. 

There are caregiving and life-balance tech tools, apps, subscriptions, and gadgets that employers can provide for employees whether they're working at home or in the office. There are books, classes, and workshops to help caregivers learn the ins and outs of getting ahead of issues before they become overwhelming and intimidating. Passing this info on to your team through regular communication shows a desire to be an employer of choice. 

Creating a culture that understands and accepts that personal issues will have an impact on work makes it easier for employees to speak up about the challenges they're facing and ask for help rather than failing at completing assignments or missing deadlines. Isn’t it better to support a strong, productive employee through this type of challenge so that they can remain a valuable contributor to the growth and success of your company? 

What advice would you give to people who want to talk to their employers about creating a more caregiver-friendly workplace?

Are you the only one that needs caregiving support? I doubt it. 54 million Americans provide care to someone else and, of that, 32 million are caring for aging parents. I would think there are many people in your company who are also facing challenges. I would share those statistics (get current numbers from the AARP website to print out) with your employer and first suggest that employers survey their employees to find out what kind of caregiving responsibilities people are dealing with. What kind of help would employees appreciate or need? If the survey comes back with evidence of need, then I believe the employers will respond. 

With various Covid precautions in effect for the foreseeable future, what resources can working caregivers access today for support?

In each community there is an organization called the Area Agency on Aging or Elder Care Resources. These organizations have the phone numbers and websites for local non-profit, for-profit, and health and wellness organizations that can provide whatever caregivers might need if they’re caring for aging adults. 

The Veterans Administration has TONS of free and low-cost services for veterans and their families. Whether you’re a veteran caring for someone or your person is a veteran, there are services available to you. 

The national organizations for common mental and physical challenges often offer free and low-cost information as well as events, local contacts, hotlines, virtual nurse and support services, and more. Simply Google you or your loved one's health challenge (i.e. Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, wheelchair-bound, stroke, etc.) to find national resources. 

And of course, Caregiving.com, AARP, and various caregiving-related Facebook groups all share links to resources for those who need help, and they provide support in the form of counseling, education, support groups, and more made-up of other people going through similar challenges. 

Fern Pessin, who is the author of "I’ll Be Right There: A Guidebook for Adults Caring for their Aging Parents." recently spoke to Global Women 4 Wellbeing about caregiving in the age of coronavirus and how caregivers in the workplace can be supported. Head over to Facebook to watch their conversation.

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