What Happens When Caregiving Conflicts with Career?

Ever had a weekend where you couldn’t wait to get back to work on Monday morning? For family caregivers like Samira Siddiqi, caring for family members on the weekend can feel like more work than their actual full-time job. Siddiqi and her husband Shaz spent years juggling career responsibilities, providing care to all four of their elderly parents, and raising their two daughters. It was so stressful that their marriage became strained, and Shaz developed a stress-induced eye disorder.

Balancing a career with family caregiving is a difficult task, but one that’s becoming increasingly common. Some 6 million employed Canadians, or 35% of the workforce, provide care to a family member or friend. This can be extremely challenging, especially when the family member needs constant care. Performing caregiving duties while trying to manage a career can feel like having two full-time jobs. Fortunately, depending on the caregiver’s career situation, there may be some options to consider that can lighten the burden.

Impacts on Career

In addition to many caregivers feeling negative psychological effects due to caregiving, many face negative financial and career-related effects as well. One report led by Prof. Norah Keating for the Canadian federal government identified four categories of employment consequences of caregiving:

  • Labour force exit refers to withdrawing from the labour force, whereas preclusion refers to people who did not enter the workforce due to having caregiving responsibilities.
  • Restricted work hours and absences includes working fewer hours, missing days of work, working part time, rearranging schedules, or changing jobs or positions.
  • Decreased productivity can be the result of being distracted, experiencing high stress or strain, and taking caregiving-related phone calls, among other things.
  • Career limitations are defined as opportunity costs that caregivers may experience due to their care responsibilities. These costs can include having to pass up promotions, turn down training, or decline relocation.

A majority of the studies referenced in the report found that caregivers were more likely to experience these employment consequences than non-caregivers. These difficulties faced by caregivers can result in significant negative economic impacts in the long-run. Prof. Keating goes into detail on some of these impacts, which include reduced/forgone income, lost benefits, and reduced pension.  However, there may be some actions that can be taken to mitigate the impacts on caregivers’ careers.

 

It’s Time to Speak Up

Family caregiving may be more common than people think. A 2012 study by Statistics Canada found that 8 million Canadians, or 28% of the population aged 15 and over, provided care to sick, disabled, or aging family members or friends. The majority of caregivers were aged 45-64, with women providing care more often than men. Out of all Canadians aged 45-54, 35.5% of men and 37.5% of women acted as caregivers. For those aged 55 to 64, these figures were 33.7% of men and 38.9% of women.

These statistics show that caregiving is quite commonplace. However, many people who try to maintain a career while providing care to a loved one prefer not to talk about it. It’s very common for caregivers to try to and hide their caregiving responsibilities from their supervisor or coworkers. Their thought process is that they don’t want others to think that they’re not 100% dedicated to their job, so they try to conceal the situation. The good news is that the Canadian Human Rights Act protects caregivers from discrimination on the basis of family status. Employers may have a duty to accommodate an employee when their obligation to care for a family member conflicts with the employer’s rules or policies and affects the employee’s ability to work.

Many Canadian companies already have programs in place that benefit caregivers. One example is Bank of Montreal, which partnered with the Mount Sinai Hospital's Reitman Centre for Alzheimer's Support and Therapy to provide support to employees who care for affected family members. The federal government also launched the Canadian Employers for Caregivers Plan in 2014 which aims to provide support to caregivers in the labour force. As a result, employer support and benefits programs for caregivers are becoming more common.

It’s a good idea for caregivers to start a conversation with their supervisor or HR department and explain the situation, and then work together on a solution. In most cases, being upfront and honest is the best course of action. In doing so, caregivers should let their supervisors know that even though they require increased flexibility, this will benefit both the caregiver and the company. They can then work together to decide which type of work options would be best for the situation.

Flexible Work Options

There are a variety of flexible working solutions that caregivers can discuss with their supervisor or HR department. Depending on what’s convenient for the caregiver and the company, one or more of the methods outlined by Rick Lauber in the Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians can be used to help increase flexibility. Some of these solutions may be more feasible than others depending on the position, the industry, and the caregiver’s financial situation.

  • The first and simplest option is to simply reduce work hours. Examples can include asking for a few hours off each week, moving down to a 4-day week, or shifting to part-time work. If work hours need to be more reduced substantially, it may be beneficial to consider job sharing. The duties of the position could be shared with another employee, and both employees would work part-time.
  • Another solution to consider is flex time. This would allow caregivers to shift around work hours so that they still work 8 hours in a day, or 40 hours in a week. An example could be working from 9-5 one day, and 7-3 the next. Flex time makes it easier for caregivers to schedule appointments, like a doctor’s appointment or other visit. Caregivers can then plan their work hours around these appointments.
  • Depending on the position, working from home may be an effective solution. This can either be done full-time or part- time. This can potentially be a very effective solution, as it allows caregivers to be able to complete their duties while also ensuring that they’re close to their loved one in case something happens.
  • Taking a leave of absence is also an option. If the caregiver’s loved one is going through a difficult time and they need round-the-clock support and care, this may be the best step to take, at least temporarily. If this is necessary, it may benefit the employer to hire a temporary worker to take over duties for the time being, depending on how long the leave of absence is.

If the employer is unwilling to allow caregivers the flexibility to try one of these alternative work options, it may be time for the caregiver to consider changing jobs. Again, this depends on their financial situation, as well as the state of the job market in their field. If they do decide to look for another job, they should try to look for a position in a field where remote work from home is common, or a position that can be done part-time. This way, they can ensure that they have the flexibility to care for their loved one.

For caregivers, balancing career responsibilities with caregiving duties is no easy task. A career provides financial stability and benefits that can be difficult to leave behind. Fortunately, in many cases these work options can make it easier for caregivers to maintain their careers while caregiving. Hopefully these solutions will make it easier and more feasible for caregivers to be able to remain productive members of their workplace while providing the necessary care to their loved ones.

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