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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.