Not long ago I ran into a former colleague who had experienced some adversity, and we had a few moments of catching up. It surprised me that during her struggles, she had taken time to read my book. Her brows arched slightly as she declared, “I had no idea you were going through all that, and I was sitting right next to you . . .” That’s what happens to caregivers on the job because they don’t want to look like what they are going through. No matter how hard things get, how worried they may be, how little sleep they got the night before, they put up the strong front, put on the mask of “just another day at the office.”
Family caregivers get plenty of advice about self-care, and that is good advice. What they don’t get is advice about job-care. Working caregivers need their jobs, and the demands of caregiving can make keeping one all but impossible. So what happens? People slip into ‘presenteeism’ — being present, but preoccupied with caregiving worries and caregiving tasks. Productivity can lag, but comp time and working from home close the gap. There is pressure to drop hours and go to part-time, if that is an option. In worst case scenarios, early retirement beckons, or forced withdrawal from the workforce altogether. During my 20+ years of caregiving and working, I juggled all these things. It was hard.
For family members who work and take care of a loved one, self-care and job-care are part of the same conversation. It’s a conversation we need to have at work with other caregivers who are all around us; we just don’t know. Like us they are trying to look and act normal, but the cost is great. We can do better, and we should. Both employees and employers would benefit from a better understanding about working and caregiving. Let’s work on that.