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How to Talk to Your Employer About Family Caregiver Needs

By Kimberly FowlerApril 16, 2019
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Family caregivers rarely get the support they need to keep a healthy caregiving, life and work balance. Part of the problem could be that caregivers aren’t asking for support.

Starting the conversation with your employer about your caregiving responsibilities can be daunting. Though, framing the conversation as a negotiation where your employer can benefit as well will help the conversation go smoothly. Start with a win-win attitude and use these tips to talk to your employer about your family caregiver needs to give yourself the best chance for success.

5 Tips for Talking to an Employer About Your Family Caregiver Needs

According to AARP’s “Caregiving in the United States Report,” only 56% of employed family caregivers have told their employer about their role as a caregiver. Why so few? Over 44% of caregivers admit they are scared to tell their manager about their extra responsibilities, for fear they will face penalties at work. Those who are nervous about the conversation may hesitate to share their responsibilities because they don’t know how to broach the discussion.

The last thing you want is to go to your employer during a moment of crisis when you’re emotional or unprepared to express your true needs. Instead, prepare for the conversation well ahead of time and generate a list of both your problems and potential solutions.

Prepare a short explanation of why you’re caregiving and what your responsibilities include. If your manager isn’t a caregiver or doesn’t have elderly parents, they may not understand just how involved caregiving can be. So only be as open as you want to be and if you don’t want to share your parent’s conditions or the exact number of hours you spend on them, then don’t.

When it’s time to have the conversation, choose a moment when you’re confident and ready and also consider using these tips:

1. Be realistic.

While some corporations offer caregiving accommodations or benefits, not all do. Many employers simply can’t arrange for you to work from home or for you to take long leaves of absence. Be careful not to push for an option your employer just can’t give. Instead, consider what options have been offered to other employees who have faced similar challenges. Chances are, your employer can extend the same resources to you.

Remember, the costs for your employer to replace you are high. While we don’t recommend bringing this up during your conversation, it’s important to keep your worth in mind and approach the situation confidently. Your employer is incentivized to keep you engaged and to find mutually beneficial solutions for you both. Usually, they will be glad you gave them the opportunity to find a plan that can work for you both.

Jan Riddle, PHR, the human resources (HR) manager for Oxford HealthCare told Aging Care that she and her staff reach out to employees who they know are caregivers to offer support groups and other options. “When a caregiver is open with the supervisor it provides an opportunity to work with the employee,” Riddle explains. “Supervisors might have some resources for the employee, and it creates camaraderie and support.” Your employers may not be able to accommodate your requests, but good managers will do what they can. You may be surprised by the options they suggest.

2. Consider work-related resources.

During the conversation, you might want to ask about these common workplace accommodations and resources that can help caregivers:

  • Adult daycare
  • Change in work hours
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Financial and legal counseling
  • Internal support groups
  • Job sharing
  • Leaves of absence
  • Personal days or vacations
  • Reimbursable elder care services
  • Therapy options through health insurance
  • Quiet spaces to take caregiver-related calls
  • Wellness program resources
  • Working from home, potentially only certain days of the week

Your HR department might have more options for you, but you won’t know until you ask!

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3. Discuss the benefits for your employer.

Chances are, your caregiving, life and work balance has impacted your job performance. The AARP survey found that 61% of caregivers have suffered negative work consequences because of their caregiver role, including receiving warnings about job performance. Other consequences included having to cut their hours, turning down promotions and more.

It’s critical to highlight how your employer can benefit from working with you to find a solution, especially if you’ve suffered these negative effects.

Mention that your goals include improved job performance, less last-minute absences as emergencies crop up and reduced stress and tension from home that carries into the workplace.

4. Highlight what you’ve already done.

If you’re speaking with someone in your company’s HR department then that person may not know what compromises or efforts you’ve already made to make your new circumstances work.

Maybe you’ve moved to another shift, reduced your work responsibilities or used your vacation time as caregiving time.

Mention these efforts so they understand you’re willing to work with them.

5. Then finish on a positive note.

Ending the conversation on a good note will reaffirm your commitment to your employer and job.

If your workplace can’t accommodate you, it may be time to start looking for a new employer who can. However, in the meantime, you’ll need this position.

So, thank your employer for listening to you and working with you to find a mutually beneficial solution.

Have you talked with your employer about your family caregiver needs? What was their reaction? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Kimberly Fowler