Caring for the Caregiver

Caring for the Caregiver

Roz Jones

The relationship between an elderly person and his or her caregiver is complex and intense sometimes.  But that relationship does not exist in a vacuum.  There are a lot of people affected by what is going on when that caregiver goes to that senior citizens apartment and give to him or her that one on one attention that is so necessary. 

For one thing, the caregiver’s friends, family and coworkers are affected.  Becoming the primary person responsible for the care and well being of a senior citizen is a peculiar job because it is tremendously demanding and completely unpaid.  Caregivers are for the most part children or close relatives of the senior citizen being cared for and they have jobs, families and a full life outside of the time they put in taking care of their parent or parents.

So when that responsibility falls to you, those around you also have to give a little to help you accomplish that goal.  But for those who are related to a caregiver, there is a demand on you as well.  If mom has to go over to Grandpa’s apartment every night for two or three hours, that means mom isn’t home helping you with your homework, making supper or just being available if her little girl needs someone to talk to.

If dad is gone thirty or forty hours a week taking care of Grandpa, that is time he is not home providing guidance for his kids, fixing the garbage disposal or making those corny but fun jokes the kids groan about but love.  Similarly, the friends and working world of a caregiver are also asked to give up a little or a lot of the mind, the emotions and the time of that caregiver so he or she can go and care for that elderly parent and divert that energy and time in that direction.

For those of us who have a caregiver in our family or part of our social or work circle, in addition to the sacrifices, you can become concerned for your friend or loved one because of the demands of caring for a senior citizen.  It’s a job that is taxing to even the strongest adult and one that take a lot out of your friend or family member.  Caregiver burn out is a common syndrome and it doesn’t just affect the caregiver.  If your parent, spouse, coworker or friend undergoes a break down from the stress of caring for her mom or dad, that will have an impact on everyone.

So there is a compelling need for all of us associated with a caregiver to learn to care for that caregiver to help her and support her in what she is doing. Some specific things you can do are…

  • Let them know you believe in what they are doing.  Caregivers often feel very alone and guilty that they are not attending to family and other relationships.  By letting her know you are 100% behind what she is doing and that you are doing fine, that guilt is removed which makes her know she can make it.
  • Let her know she is missed. 
  • Pick up the slack.  Each evening if dad and the kids can pick up the house, then mom can get some sleep and know that you are taking care of business at home so she doesn’t have to worry about it.
  • Let mom sleep in.  Maybe even bring her breakfast in bed every so often.
  • Pitch in.  Go over and help grandma out yourself so it’s not all on mom.
  • An unexpected surprise. Every so often do something to surprise and totally delight mom and give her a fun break from her worries of care giving.  A movie out or a limo ride around town can go a long way for a weary caregiver.

If the spouse, the children and friends and associates of the coworker can keep and eye on her to look out for those signs of burn out, it may be our responsibility to jump in and give her some support before everything falls apart.  By caring for the caregiver, she is better able to give attention to that senior citizen she is caring for.  So in a way we are all becoming part of the effort to give the caregiver’s mom or dad the best care possible.  And that is what community is all about.

More and more businesses are facing a challenge and some decisions to be made.  As the baby boom generation moves into retirement years and becomes elderly, the workers that make your business function so efficiently are going to have the additional demands placed on them of becoming the primary caregiver for an aging parent. 

It’s easy to just shrug at this need in your employee population but just as the demands of parenting can have a huge impact on the workplace, the personal needs of your employees to take care of their aging parents will have an impact on the office and the productivity of your business.

Business can no longer be cavalier and declare, “Well they can just quit and we can find new employees.”  The brutal truth is that skilled, trained and mature employees don’t, as they day, grow on trees.  With the work force shrinking, it’s foolish to think that if you have a solid and hard working employee who knows his job and does good work for your business, that employee can’t just be replaced with a kid right out of school.

The cost to your business can be devastating if you have a policy of running off good, hard working and smart employees because they are becoming caregivers in their personal lives and replacing them with younger, unskilled employees who are less informed about the ways of business.  The costs of training and the learning curve of the job alone will easily be more than any costs of accommodating existing employees.  Moreover, you cannot just replace judgment, relationships, market savvy and wisdom which many of the employees in the age bracket bring to your business.

So how do you accommodate the needs of this new group of caregivers who are beginning to become a regular part of your workforce?  The first step is to understand what they are going through.  These people are going to take care of their loved ones whether you are aware of it or not.  So if you can partner with them to make them successful at home, they will work extra hard to make you successful in the marketplace.

Start with some seminars and brown bag lunches where people can come and share the demands they are going through as caregivers for elderly parents or loved ones.  Invite everyone to these lunches because there will be many in your business who know that is coming up for them and want to learn all they can about what is ahead.  By making an open discussion of elderly care issues part of the discussion at work, you are communicating that you want to help and not hinder what your employees are facing.  And that will endear you to them and get you the reputation of being one of those “good employers” in town.

Not all employees who are caregivers will need accommodation all the time.  If their parent’s needs are not that demanding, it will be more of an emotional adjustment than a demand on the schedule.  But encourage each employee who is entering into a time of being the primary caregiver for their parent to communicate that to you both through meetings with the Human Resource department and to their boss as well. 

There is a practical side to getting inside of what is going on with your employees.  To your workers, they see you as family and feel more bonded to the workplace because you are concerned about their parents.  But for you, the business will know in detail what is going on with that situation so you can anticipate if that worker will see sudden interruption come up at work and adjust schedules accordingly.

Be sensitive and be communicative with your employees and you can truly become their partner in dealing with this tough part of their lives.  And in doing so, they will feel that you support them and their loyalty to the company will skyrocket.  That loyalty will translate into better productivity and longevity in your workforce.  That stability translates into a more efficient organization which is a more profitable organization.  So in the long run, partnering with your caregivers in the workplace just makes good business sense.

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