Work-Life Balance for Working Caregivers
Being a caregiver is an unexpected life role that is all-encompassing. Achieving work-life balance as a working caregiver adds complexity into already busy lives. Working women caregivers shoulder the main burden of caring for aging parents upsetting work-life balance. While more men are becoming family caregivers, 40%, women represent 60% of the 34 million caregivers in the United States.
Mid-life health and well-being affect caregiver work-life balance and impacts quality of life in later years. Caring for aging parents with multiple health issues is demanding as health conditions worsen.
Working caregivers have the opportunity to embrace health and well-being activities as a result of witnessing the impact of poor health on aging parents. Actions taken in mid-life to be more proactive about health, well-being, financial, and legal planning are essential to achieving quality of life in later life.
Becoming an Unexpected Caregiver
Caregiving begins with a midnight phone call or the health emergency of an aging parent or a spouse. Work-life balance is suddenly interrupted and translates into new routines. Helping an aging parent or a spouse may begin with small tasks not considered to be caregiving tasks.
Small tasks like assistance with grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, errands, and small projects around the house, over time, lead to managing more complex care. Research confirms that small changes in physical abilities and health occur as early as midlife. (1)
Disability as a Mid-Life Concern For Women
Chronic diseases are the leading cause of disability in the United States. Sixty percent of American adults now live with at least one chronic condition; 42 percent have more than one. Around half of people in their mid-40’s to mid-60s are living with multiple health conditions. (2)
Chronic health conditions include heart disease, mood disorders, diabetes, breathing disorders like COPD and sinusitis, inflammatory joint disorders, osteoarthritis, asthma, and cancer. These are conditions that are not immediately life-threatening but impact daily life and can have a negative effect on work-life balance.
The definition of disability can be viewed as a decline over time. Activities completed one month ago that cannot be performed at the same intensity or level can be considered a disability. For example a prior ability to walk a mile that now is limited to walking three blocks.
Mid-Life Difficulty with Daily Activities
Stooping, bending, or kneeling can become more difficult in midlife. Discomfort sitting or standing for a period of time may result in legs becoming stiff or aching backs or feet. Midlife adults may struggle with the ability to walk five blocks, climb 20 stairs, or lift and carry an item that weighs 5 or 10 lbs. without becoming out of breath.
More than 40% of people ages 50-64 report that it is difficult for them to complete these types of physical activities. Difficulty performing some of these physical type activities can result in challenges at work.
The Effects of Chronic Disease in the Workplace
The workplace is significantly affected by employees diagnosed with chronic disease. One-third of adults are obese, 1 in 5 is a smoker, and more than half do not meet physical activity recommendations. Health issues result in time off work. More time may be spent at medical appointments. Health issues can upset work-life balance.
Recommendations for physical activity are affected by difficulty in performing daily activities. Additionally, for women the factors of stress, low social support, decreased social activity, smoking, obesity, and diabetes are predictors of old age disability. (4)
Absenteeism costs associated with hypertension, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity are significant. (3)
Time off work for employees with chronic diseases impacts workflow and productivity. (4)
- One-third of working Americans ages nineteen to sixty-four suffer from at least one chronic disease increasing the likelihood or random or even prolonged absenteeism
- Twenty-one percent take from one to five sick days per year when they don’t feel they can give one-hundred percent on the job
- Twenty-seven percent have missed six or more days of work
The ability of working caregivers to care for loved ones is also impacted by their health. If the main caregiver is unable to care for an aging parent or a spouse, what then? Who shows up to be the caregiver?
Pursuing Health And Well-Being
The good news is that all of these concerning factors can be improved with effort. Weight loss and physical activity are the best options to prevent chronic disease and to reduce the progression of the disease.While many may say that they don’t have the time to pursue exercise, creating time in the schedule for exercise is a positive work-life balance effort.
Pursuing health and well-being is a holistic trend that includes managing physical health, relationships, and nutrition. Health and well-being also focus on achieving a positive mindset and managing mental health concerns.
The Health Effects of Caregiving Stress
These aspects are extremely important for working caregivers. Stress in caregiving has significant negative physical and emotional effects. Women who serve as caregivers experience two to six times higher levels of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions as compared to women who do not act in a caregiving role.
Other aspects of caregiving, including relationships with family members, can also result in sickness. Many illnesses result from components of stress, feelings of guilt, grief, and other emotions. Alternative health providers identify and treat these conditions with naturopathic or other treatment methods.
Western medicine relies on treating diseases using traditional methods of prescribing medications and related methods. Consumers interested in health and well-being, rather than being treated by traditional medicine, are beginning to pursue alternative practitioners at higher rates. In addition to being a caregiver, attending to the health needs of the caregiver can complicate trying to achieve a work-life balance.
My Parent is Stubborn
Conflict arises in caregiving situations when aging parents are viewed by adult children caregivers as being stubborn or refusing care. The idea of being stubborn may relate to a desire for independence on the part of the aging parent versus safety concerns by adult children.
Negotiations about reasonable actions versus risky actions are a significant part of caregiving discussions. Aging parents and adult children have very different views about what represents positive and responsible behaviors.
When Taking Control Feels Easier
Some adult children tend to want to take over decision-making and activities for aging parents which may result in more concerns and place more stress on work-life balance.Fostering independence, instead of limiting the activities of aging parents, is the better alternative.
While taking over decision-making and tasks may feel easier or more time-efficient, in the long run this action places a greater time and responsibility burden on adult children. This dynamic is commonly seen in adult living communities where care staff is pressed for time.
One example is an adult living community where an older adult walks slowly. The time to walk to the dining room for dinner may be 20 minutes. Care staff views this time as an impediment to their ability to complete work. Instead of accompanying the resident on a walk to the dining room, the more expedient action is placing the resident in a wheelchair for a 5 minute trip to the dining room.
What happens? The older adult who previously could walk to the dining room now becomes wheelchair dependent for distances. Overall physical ability declines. Mood and confidence in abilities decline. The adult becomes more dependent on staff for all activities of daily living. Health declines and hastens disability that eventually results in requiring more help and higher costs of care.
When Elderly Parents Need More Help
Not talking about care and caregiving needs is a common caregiving mistake. Because caregiving is viewed as a family matter, little discussion occurs in society about having discussions in advance of the need.
Western medicine and the healthcare system are not preventive. The healthcare system assists after health issues are diagnosed. Talking about the eventual need for care and planning ahead is a positive action. The reality is that very few families have these conversations.
If elderly parents had caregiving experience with their parents, the conversations are more likely to occur. Elderly parents may attempt to talk to adult children who don’t want to have the conversations because they are not emotionally prepared to think about health and care concerns.
When elderly parents need more help, these conversations are mandatory. Conversations about tasks, time, the type of help needed can help avoid stress. For working caregivers who want to achieve work-life balance, these conversations are extremely important.
When Work and Caregiving Collide
Being a caregiver and working full time can feel impossible. Working caregivers don’t want to discuss caring for aging parents for fear of workplace discrimination. A perception exists that employees caring for elderly loved ones are less committed to their careers.
While work-life balance is a common discussion in the workplace, the reality is that work-life balance is difficult to achieve. The workplace more commonly supports childbirth and adoption. Support for caring for elderly loved ones is less common, if not totally absent.
It is true that being a caregiver results in having to take time off work to take elderly parents to doctor appointments. There are also times when unexpected events happen. Coming in late, or leaving early from the job may affect work performance and relationships with supervisors.
The Workplace Is Not Sensitive To the Needs of Employee Caregivers
The workplace has not prepared or adjusted for the idea of employees being caregivers. The costs to employers of caregiver absenteeism, presenteeism, leaving positions and related concerns are high. Employees state that they want access to counselors, support groups and courses about caregiving. Employees want to make the effort to reach work-life-caregivig balance and need help.
Employers have not yet come to accept that the effects of employee caregiving will continue to increase as the population ages. Working employees who are caregivers are a long term issue that will not disappear.
Working women are the main caregivers. They are also pursuing college degrees at an increasing rate. Retaining women is an important component for employers that will become more important in the future.
It’s Time to Engage
Opportunities exist for employers to engage their employees and the consumers to whom they market. Caregiving is a life transition that involves many other aspects of life that include family relationships, health, well-being, insurance, financial and legal matters, and managing households.
By making working employees who are caregivers feel valued, employers will retain an experienced workforce. Talking to consumers and customers about the aspects of life that relate to caregiving will have a similar result of extending value and engaging consumers in conversations about the life transition of caregiving.
We’ve waited long enough. Let’s make caregiving something to talk about.
Looking For More Help With Caregiver Work-Life Balance. You’ll Find What You’re Looking For In the Caring Generation Library in the Employment Work-Life Balance Section.
©2019 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved
(1) Karvonen-Gutierrez, Carria A. The Importance of Disability as a Health Issue for Mid-Life Women. Women’s Midlife Health (2015) https://womensmidlifehealthjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40695-015-0011-x 1:10 DOI 10.1186/s40695-015-0011-x
(2) Chronic Conditions in America: Price and Prevalence. The Rand Corporation 7/12/2017. https://www.rand.org/blog/rand-review/2017/07/chronic-conditions-in-america-price-and-prevalence.html
(3) Asay GRB, Roy K, Lang JE, Payne RL, Howard DH. Absenteeism and Employer Costs Associated With Chronic Diseases and Health Risk Factors in the US Workforce. Prev Chronic Dis 2016;13:150503. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd13.150503external icon and https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2016/15_0503.htm
(4) Nationwide Better Health. Controlling the Cost and Impact of Absenteeism: Why Businesses Should Take a Closer Look at Outsourcing Absence Management, 2010.