People often ask me, fearing they already know the answer, “How does caring for aging parents affect a career? Can caring for your aging parents hurt your career?” But the other day, Denise Brown of Caregiving.com, who always poses the most thoughtful questions, asked me, “Is caregiving good for your career?” Huh.
My initial reaction was heck no. My personal experience has proven that. Part of the reason this website exists is because the struggle is so damn real. And then I thought about it some more.
Benefits of Being a Caregiver
Maybe, my personal experience has proven the exact opposite to be true. Nine months after I started a new job, both of my parents got sick. I reduced my hours to part time for several months and worked from hospitals, my home office, and a hospice house while I dealt with the two terminal diagnosis my parents received and all of the logistics that went with that. My job is to build and run an office – find clients, hire, and manage people. While I was able to be (mostly) productive while I worked, you can’t effectively build a business if you’re not out hustling. So when I returned to full time status after the death of my mother, I was fired by one client, rejected by one prospective client, and I had missed all of my goals. Eighteen months later, I’ve never fully recovered because every win I have comes with an asterisk. *This is where we hoped to be a year and a half ago. My status at the company isn’t what it was going to be when I first accepted the job. It seems like that would make a strong argument in support of the fact that caregiving has not been good for my career. But hold on.
I don’t always get a seat at the decision-making table at work, but you know where I do get a seat much more often than I used to? At the dining room table having dinner with my kids and husband. Before caregiving, I was rarely home before 7:15 at night. I traveled at least a week out of every month. Now, I leave the office at 5:30 much more than I used to. I travel only when the reason is truly compelling or I just can’t say no. I still work like a dog. I am still out several nights a week for work-related events. Some months, like this one, I travel way too much. But my priorities have come more into focus since that period of intense caregiving. I held my mother’s hand and my aunt’s hand while they died. I lost three aunts within months of my mother. You just can’t experience those connections and losses and be the exact same person you were before. I’d be lying if I said I don’t sometimes feel uncomfortable with my slightly diminished role at work and I don’t sometimes miss what I was supposed to become. But mostly, I love the fact that the perspective and clarity about what truly matters that I arrived at via caregiving guides my decision-making. And there are so many other gains from caregiving that I apply to my career and you can too.
So, after thinking about that, my answer to Denise’s question, “Is caregiving good for your career?” became, the reality is it usually isn’t, but it should be.
Since I wrote the article, The Crisis Facing America’s Working Daughters, in The Atlantic, women have been reaching out to me from all over the country and they are struggling to balance career and care. Data from MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving tells us women lose an estimated $324,044 in wages due to caregiving because they take demotions, reduce their hours, or quit altogether. I know the negative impact caregiving can have on career. That’s the reality.
How Caring for Aging Parents Affects a Career
But, here’s the opportunity. The opportunity is for businesses to realize the tremendous value that
caregivers can bring to work. From a pure numbers perspective, that same MetLife and National Alliance for Caregiving study calculated the cost to businesses to replace women caregivers who quit their jobs because of their caregiving responsibilities at an estimated $3.3 billion. The average caregiver is a woman in her mid-to-late 40s. That’s a whole lot of work experience going out the door. And for that business owner who is happy to let a middle-aged woman go because he is of the mindset that the true talent base is among millennial workers, guess what? Nearly 11 million millennials, between the ages of 18 and 34, are providing care to a family member.
And then there is the enhanced skill set caregivers bring to their jobs. I’ve written about this before in a post titled, Why Family Caregivers Are Unemployable, and Why You Should Hire Them Anyway. But that was written from the perspective of why employers should hire caregivers. This time, I want you, working daughter, to internalize why you are an asset to your business.
- Caregivers get sh*t done. I mean really. Talk about efficiency. When your day’s to-do list includes take Dad to the doctor, consult with his team to adjust his care plan; run an errand; choose paint colors and light fixtures for home remodel; help study for geography test; edit corporate blog post; call client to answer a question; interview a candidate; consult on Algebra homework; draft a new business proposal; schedule business travel; do an interview for a podcast; stop a bloody nose; call the insurance company and go to a networking reception, and you check everything off that list, you know two things are true. 1. You freakin rock! And 2. Caregiving gave you those mad skills. Because when you became a caregiver you had no other choice but to learn to crank. So be confident you are an asset to any organization.
- Caregivers know how to make flex time work for themselves and their employers. We caregivers require a level of flexibility that most people wouldn’t dare ask of their employers. But we did because we had no other way to survive. So as businesses contemplate the future and how they will adapt to the millennial workforce that wants to work differently, they should look to you for the answers.
- Caregivers don’t take no for an answer. Our sales and negotiation skills rival those of Jerry McGuire. From insisting the doctor see our father that day, to convincing our mother to drink more water so she doesn’t dehydrate, to getting a delivery of medical supplies expedited because we just can’t wait, to convincing our siblings to step up and help out, we get what we need. And we can put that tenacity and finesse to work for our employers to negotiate better supplier terms, get a vendor to come in on time and on budget time, or get a coworker to meet a deadline. Who doesn’t need that?
- Caregivers are tapped into a burgeoning market opportunity. The eldercare services market is projected at $294 billion in the United States alone. Who better to tap into that market opportunity than you? I’ll tell you who. No one. Whether you guide your employer as they assess the market or you launch your own business, you have incredibly relevant skills for an incredibly lucrative market.
So then, Denise and I talked about this issue further on her podcast, Your Caregiving Journey. You can listen to it here. And as we talked through, not just how the skills we develop as caregivers can be an asset, but how the perspective we gain as caregivers can change the way we think about work and life and work/life, I came to a new conclusion. I know how caring for aging parents affects a career, and it’s not all bad.