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Being a family caregiver is a complicated lifestyle. In many ways, I find it to be far more complex than even parenting, and sometimes it’s far more demanding, too. It’s also very difficult to describe to colleagues. And, unfortunately, caregiving is rarely discussed in positive or desirable ways in our culture.
Because of these reasons, as well as ones that are more private and emotional, many of the caregivers I know (and me too, at one time) want to hide their caregiving responsibilities while at work. Or at the very least, they avoid calling attention to that aspect of their lives.
So how do you help them, even when you know very little about their life beyond the office?
Here are 7 important ways you can support caregivers at work.
1. Know that every caregiving situation is unique. Some caregivers live with the person they care for (known as the “care receiver”), but many don’t. Some caregivers were adopted or are caring for a step-parent. Many caregivers aren’t allowed to see their care receivers right now because of health concerns. Some caregivers have supportive spouses and families, but many feel alone. Some caregivers are financially responsible for all expenses and it’s a heavy burden, but many have financial support. Not all older relatives are sick or frail, and not everyone is caring for an older relative. Please just presume that they are dealing with far more than you can see, and with things that are far different from what you imagine.
2. Put your own biases aside. Biases about family, especially parents, are some of the strongest we have. All of the “shoulds” you believe about the behavior of mothers, adult children, in-laws, spouses – these are your biases, and it is 100% normal. All humans have biases. But your team member’s caregiving relationship with her mother is not about you or your opinions. Your relationship with your family can’t be used to measure somebody’s caregiving situation.
3. Point caregivers towards mental health resources. These include support groups, therapy, coaching, meditation, mindfulness exercises, and any benefits available through your employer or health and wellness programs. Create an employee resource group for caregivers, if you can. Make this information available company-wide so that colleagues can share with their teams as needed.
4. Include caregivers in consideration for rewards and promotion. Do they want they to advance their careers and have they done the work to earn a raise and a promotion? Are they performing above expectations? Don’t exclude them based on what you think about their caregiving responsibilities (see #2, above). Most especially, do not presume they have less availability or capacity because they are a caregiver. Many caregivers arrange for help so they can work without distraction, and some will never have to deal with a crisis. Wherever possible, evaluate on performance, not hours logged.
5. Be compassionate when the unexpected happens. The care receiver may get sick. Laws can change that shift the availability of housing and funding sources. Economic crises or family issues may cause investments to crash or become unavailable. The caregiver will need understanding, not judgment, from their employer.
6. Advocate for flexible schedules and, where needed, formal leave. Team members who are talented, dedicated, smart, and productive are worth fighting for. Their loyalty and value to the company will only increase if you take a stand on their behalf.
7. Ask if and how they want your help – and don’t help if they decline your offer. If you think you see a caregiver struggling, if they are working for a manager who is acting in biased ways or is being judgmental and unkind, or if another team member is gossiping or making damaging assumptions, ask if they want you to intervene or change their work assignment. But remember that unsolicited help is one of the primary problems many caregivers have to deal with in their caregiving situation. Often, just offering to listen is the best help you can give.
Need some help with the emotional grind of caregiving?
Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator on Fire, has a dream to create a world that is generously inclusive of all adult generations (iGen/Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X-ers, Boomers and Traditionalists).
Facilitator on Fire's "Connecting Across Generations" seminar helps leaders and managers build amazing multi-generational teams. Kay's keynote address, "Top Myths of Leading Generations," helps businesses see the hard costs of miscommunication between generations. "Caregiver Coaching" is for family caregivers who are ready to overcome the emotional grind of caregiving.
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