Should I tell my boss I’m a caregiver? I get asked this question almost weekly from women and men who are trying to balance eldercare with their careers. The answer is it depends.
How eldercare affects careers
If you have aging parents, there is a good chance at some point, your caregiving responsibilities will impact your career. According to a report from the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers titled Working While Caring: A National Survey of Caregiver Stress in the U.S. Workforce, 44 percent of family caregivers who are employed full time report needing to go part time because of caregiving. Approximately 10 percent had to quit their jobs altogether.
When my parents were in their 80s, they started needing more and more support. At first it was chores around the house and help with the mail and the bills. Then my mother had a bad fall and gave up driving. My father had let his license expire a few years earlier. And just like that, I became their only way to get to their many medical appointments. Luckily, I had paid sick time I could use; approximately 33 million Americans do not. Still, even with time off, juggling work and care was difficult. I knew my coworkers were wondering why I was out so often. I wondered if they resented picking up the slack. Many of them were younger than me and eldercare wasn’t something they had to think about yet. I wore myself out trying to balance the job, my parents, and my kids.
Then, when both of my parents got sick – my mother with cancer and my father with dementia, I was afraid to tell my boss what was happening in my personal life. I was the only remote worker in our company at the time, and senior management often said it was important for employees to be seen in company headquarters. But the office was 3,00 miles away on the other side of the country, and during the few trips I managed to schedule in order to be seen, I ended up spending hours on the phone managing eldercare crises at home.
Another reason I hesitated to share was because I knew the boss would me to take time off and I was running out of sick time. I couldn’t afford unpaid leave – I needed my paycheck. However, since my situation was impacting my ability to work, I had to discuss it with her.
To tell or not to tell
Ideally, you will feel comfortable talking to your boss or human resources director about your situation. After all, they can’t help you balance work and life if they don’t know you need help. Plus, you never want to surprise a supervisor. Giving them advance warning lets them prepare for when the time comes that you do need to take a day off or leave work with no notice. However, only you can determine if that decision is right for you.
Consider how secure you feel in your job and what you may know about your manager’s attitudes toward work life issues. Perhaps they preach, and practice, “family first,” or maybe you’ve overheard them make disparaging comments about a coworker who took time off for personal reasons. In some instances, sharing the fact that you have challenges outside of the office may cause managers to view you as a weak link, start monitoring your work to look for evidence that your personal life is impacting your performance, or withhold assignments and promotions. You will need to use your best judgement about whether or not to share.
What to say if you do share
If you do choose to disclose your situation, stick to the basic facts.
Do tell your manager that your elderly mother has been hospitalized and that you may need to attend meetings with her medical team, or that you are not expecting her to make it. Don’t share details about her diagnosis or the fact that you are worried about paying her medical bills.
Do share that your elderly father has moved in with you and that you are finding it difficult to get to work on time as you need to assist him in the morning. Don’t rant about how your siblings don’t help or how difficult it is to put a pair of compressions stockings on him.
Do have some recommendations on how best to cover your work in the event you cannot do it. And be prepared to ask for any support you think you will need. When my mother went to the hospice home and I worked part time, I would often end my day before my coworkers in California even began theirs. Because we communicated primarily over email, we had a few miscommunications that resulted in our missing client deadlines. So I asked my boss if she would appoint one person in the San Francisco office as my contact. I would call him every day before I left for the day and tell him what I needed, and he would make sure the team delivered it to me before they left for the day.
Don’t agree to suggestions that you don’t think will be helpful. Your boss may assume you don’t want to participate in a meeting or go on a business trip because you have responsibilities at home. But you might actually be thrilled to travel and spend a night in a hotel with turn down service and no one to take care of.
In discussing your eldercare responsibilities at work, you just might discover that others are in similar situations, and together you may be able to influence how your company supports family caregivers and pave an easier path for future working daughters, and sons.