Caring for family members while holding down a full- or part-time job is a way of life for millions of us: Close to 30 percent of Americans are caregivers, and six out of ten caregivers are employed full or part time.
Before making a rash decision about whether to quit your job, take a step back and think about the long-term ramifications.
Caregiving impacts work in dozens of ways. You may miss work to take care of your loved one’s—or your own—health. Some caregivers turn down training opportunities and take on smaller roles in the office, others may wonder if caregiving has cost them a promotion. If the responsibilities of caring for another affect your career and success at work, you may feel tempted to quit altogether. Should you?
Just as with taking care of a child, it can seem that it doesn’t pay to work. But don’t think only about your salary now. Think about future earnings, promotions, your pension, and Social Security benefits as well.
This financial fallout can be considerable: The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) estimates that adult children who take time off from work to care for parents can expect to lose $659,000 in pensions, Social Security benefits, and wages.
Why so much money? Many caregivers think they’ll be away from work for a few months, but the average duration is five years. And after you’ve been out of the workforce for several years, it can be very difficult to return (especially at your current level).
There are also the social and emotional aspects of working to consider. Work gives people a lot more than just income. They get satisfaction and social stimulation. And not everyone is cut out for the endless responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with a full-time caregiving role.
If you are feeling stretched to the breaking point, look into short-term or less permanent alternatives to quitting. Though you might be tempted to keep your caregiving obligations to yourself, a better long-term strategy is to sit down with your boss to come up with a solution that works for the both of you. Also, sit down with a financial planner who specializes in elder care issues and who might know of benefits you or your loved one can tap into.
Here’s a plan of action:
Before you talk with your boss, contact your human resources department to find out what caregiving benefits your company offers. You may be able to take advantage of generous personal or sick leave policies as well as flex time, job sharing, leave sharing, employee assistance programs (which might include access to a care manager), and even mental health services for caregivers.
The Family and Medical Leave Act permits employees to take unpaid leave from their jobs for up to 12 weeks within a 12-month period for a specified family or medical reason without the risk of losing their jobs.
Know what you want before you sit down with your boss. After you’ve researched benefits and rights, look at the situation from your boss’s perspective and develop a proposal that addresses both of your needs. Present a few possible solutions (Can you take advantage of flex time or share your responsibilities with another employee? Is it possible to spend a day or half day working from home? Can you change some of your job duties?), and be flexible as you discuss alternatives.
Let your boss know that you are open to continuing the conversation. Set up a time for the next talk. Offer to re-evaluate every few months.
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