Balancing Work and Caregiving

By Wendy Johnstone

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You have a looming deadline at work and your mother is calling because your father has fallen yet again. You are notified by your mother’s housing provider to find immediate overnight care due to your mother’s dementia and wandering at night. When you arrive late for work after taking your dad to his medical appointment, your supervisor immediately calls you into her office.

Sound familiar?  

Almost 28 per cent of Canadians combine paid work and caregiving. The majority of caregivers experience wonderful feelings of fulfillment by giving back to the person they are caring for and enjoy strengthened family relations. The strains of caregiving, however, take their toll: A quarter of caregivers report a change in employment including turning down training opportunities or promotions, taking a loss of income or simply having to quit their jobs. Almost 15 per cent report health and sleep problems and over a third report emotional difficulties due to caregiving.

Balancing caregiving and work situations vary tremendously and no single action plan works for everyone. Here are a few strategies to lighten your load and reduce stress:

Be honest and proactive. Describe the situation to your employer before it becomes a problem and let them know you are committed to your job. Be honest with yourself. Don’t sugarcoat the situation. It won’t help you in the long run and will cause additional stress.

Recognize the signs of stress. Listen to your body - don’t wait until the physical or emotional consequences of stress negatively impact you. Identify one way you can support yourself with stress or consider professional help, if you feel overwhelmed.

Learn about available supports. Can you work flexible hours? Do you have someone who can cover for you if you need to leave the office? Does your employer know about your eldercare situation? Are you comfortable talking to your direct superior or colleagues about your eldercare situation?  What policies does your company have in place to support working caregivers?

Document, Document, Document. Create a file and keep track of documents and information on your caregiving situation. Such documentation serves as a valuable reference when dealing with your employer, colleagues, doctors and others involved in the care of your loved one.

Make your time your own. The people we are caring for may get into the habit of calling for every little thing, or simply because they are lonely. Set boundaries and schedule regular times when you will call or check in. Be present and learn to compartmentalize - "work when you work," "give care when you are caregiving," and "play when you play."

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