Whether you just started caregiving or you’ve been at it for decades, trying to juggle your professional and personal life is difficult as a caretaker.
Approximately one in five Americans provides care to a loved one with a disability or illness, according to Fortune magazine. This number is predicted to climb even higher as the population of aging seniors in the U.S. grows. An AARP study found that "care provided by millions of unpaid family caregivers across the U.S. was valued at $600 billion."
Caregiving is a nuanced and often overwhelming or isolating experience. The CDC states, “Caregiving can affect the caregiver’s life in a myriad of ways, including his/her ability to work, engage in social interactions and relationships, and maintain good physical and mental health.”
One of the biggest hurdles for caretakers is balancing their career with caregiving. The Mayo Clinic estimates that nearly 60% of caregivers work outside of the home.
Although caregiving can be stressful and chaotic, it’s also incredibly rewarding.
Whether you just started caregiving or you’ve been at it for decades, trying to juggle both elements—on top of everyday duties like running errands, cooking, cleaning, paying bills, and more—is difficult.
Employee resource groups DAE@Apex (Disability Awareness and Education) and Families@Apex recently partnered to host a community conversation that explored employees’ caregiving experiences. No one can speak for all caretakers as a whole, but this was an opportunity for people to share their personal perspectives.
While there are no easy answers or fast solutions for balancing a career with caregiving duties, the group did discuss a few tips to make life a bit smoother.
Recognize that You Can’t Do Everything
It’s impossible to do it all: you can’t hit every work deadline, rock caregiving duties, cook delicious meals, keep the house sparkling clean, and have a robust social life. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
“You never feel like you're giving 100% to both work and caregiving,” a webinar attendee says.
Nothing will ever be perfectly balanced. “There's always something that is not balanced, but we all try the best we can,” an ERG group member points out.
Focus on what’s in your control, then outsource help for other components of life. Ask for and accept help from family, friends, or a hired service.
Asking for help is hard for some caregivers, but it makes a world of difference. People who care about you might not know you're struggling if you don't speak up.
Ways to outsource help include hiring a cleaning crew or lawn service, letting friends bring over dinner, ordering food instead of cooking, having family members transport a loved one to medical appointments, etc.
Flex Your Work Hours
Adopting flexible hours helps offset the time spent caregiving during a typical 9 to 5 workday.
“Some weeks you put in lots of overtime, then you balance it out other weeks by spending more hours caregiving,” someone shares in the community conversation.
If you’re a morning person, you could try waking up early to tackle tasks, or do the opposite if you’re a night owl. Squeeze in pockets of work whenever it works best for your schedule and energy level, i.e. answering emails while waiting at the doctor’s office, taking calls from the car, and more.
It's helpful to work for a company that is supportive of your situation. Having an understanding boss makes it easier to log on at odd times or work from home instead of going into an office.
Harvard Business Review has advice for leaders who want to create more transparency around caregiving: talk about it.
"Rather than saying you’ll be out of the office for 'a family trip,' be honest that you are taking time off to help your mother move into assisted living," explains Katherine Goldstein, a journalist, corporate speaker, and consultant for companies looking to support caregivers at work.
"Leaders showcasing that they have personal lives and care responsibilities can have a huge impact in what employees feel is okay to talk about at work."
Keep Calendars Up to Date
Caregivers’ schedules are bogged down with meetings, errands, and doctor’s appointments. As soon as an appointment gets scheduled, block it off in your Outlook or Google work calendar so your team knows you’ll be busy during that time.
Things will undoubtedly pop up, so being open to change is a necessity. Sometimes you get double booked and need reschedule a meeting or appointment last minute.
A webinar participant mentions that a wall calendar and handwritten agenda are more helpful for her than solely using a phone or computer calendar.
Keep bosses and colleagues up to date with scheduling conflicts, time off requests, and general availability. Be honest about boundaries, needs, and priorities. By communicating openly, you set a precedent for how to navigate professional and personal obligations.
“It helps to have a team that works with you and is understanding of the situation,” a webinar guest explains. “My coworkers helped me through so much uncertainty [when I first became a caregiver]. They provided me with guidance and strength.”
Be Kind to Yourself
Having compassion for yourself is key, especially because caregiving is emotionally taxing. According to a SCAN Health survey, 44% of caregivers are concerned about the emotional strains of caretaking.
Give yourself grace. Some days are easier than others. It might never feel like you’re the perfect parent, employee, partner, sibling, or friend – but that’s okay. You’re doing your best, and that’s all that matters.
“Sometimes you think, ‘I can't do this,’” an ERG member admits. “But then you do do it.”
Focus on the Good Parts
Although caregiving is often stressful and chaotic, it’s also incredibly rewarding. One employee says, “Being a caregiver makes me grateful for my strengths and what I do for others, as well as others' strengths and what they can do for us.”
Another participant explains, “Caregiving teaches you so much about unconditional love and being selfless. It helps you focus on the present, love deeper, and not take things for granted.”