June 29, 2020 | By Karel S. Karpe, Associate Director, Corporate and Foundation Relations, National Organization on Disability
Being a caregiver is incredibly rewarding.
You spend quality time with a loved one. You make a difference in a person’s life, and you have peace of mind that someone you care about is safe and secure.
As many of us know, however, being a caregiver can be difficult, not leaving the person doing the caring with a lot of time to look after themselves.
My caregiving is sandwiched between my 90-year-old mother and my 29-year old son who has a disability. Each morning, I start my day by checking in on my mother (fortunately she lives in the same apartment complex as me) and then making sure my son is ready for his day. At that point I start my full-time job with the National Organization on Disability.
COVID has changed aspects of my care rituals. Many of my son’s normal activities have either been cancelled or altered. My mother is much more isolated. For me, life is more stressful and I am careful to ensure that I prioritize some self-care.
More than 1 in 6 working Americans care for an elderly or disabled family member, relative or friend. Two-thirds of these caregivers are women and those of us with jobs average 34.7 hours of work a week.
The impacts of caregiving and work add up. As many as 70 percent of people who are caregivers suffer work-related problems because of their dual roles and 39 percent of caregivers leave their job because they need more time to care for a loved one. And sadly, 34 percent of people leave a job because their work does not provide the flexible hours they need.
All of those statistics could be significantly altered for the better if more employers allowed their staff to modify work hours when necessary. Many organizations are still rigid about employee time. Only 53 percent of companies offer flexible hours/paid sick days.
This really comes down to a matter of trust: employers need to realize work will get done, it just might not be between the hours of 9 to 5. And flexibility benefits employers — studies show employees who have a flexible schedule take less sick and vacation days, clock shorter breaks and get assignments done more quickly.
Telework provides even more opportunities for flexibility, and now during COVID, when so many of us are home, it is a good time to focus on how we can help caregivers. One way is to know who they are in a workforce. Over 50 percent of employers don’t track data on their employees’ caregiving responsibilities.
Disasters sometimes give us opportunities. I am buoyed during this pandemic that COVID is bringing us back to discussions of what it means to be an employee, of being a parent, of family, of caregiving. I hope even after the crisis passes, we continue to talk about the value of having a lifestyle – and work day — that allows us to care for others.