Your options for balancing work and eldercare

By Wendy Johnstone
June 10, 2011

This, our third and final column on Work and Eldercare, will give you a summary of options to assist in balancing caregiving roles with your work.

Many businesses have family-friendly options that can help balance the demands of family caregiving and work. The bulk of major Canadian collective agreements have options designed to increase flexibility in the workplace. If you are self-employed or work in a non-union environment, this column is a good starting place to think about other options.

An important first step is making sure your definition of caregiving is on par with your work place policies. If you are caring for your mother-in-law or a second cousin removed, does it fit under the category of “caring for family” or do the policies only apply to immediate family?

Second, ask yourself what option would best suit your role as caregiver? Flexible work options are helpful for caregivers who work outside the home and allow them to respond to unexpected caregiving needs. On the other hand some family members would rather have a set schedule that conforms to the needs of those they are caring for.

Flextime is one option that appeals to many working caregivers as it provides more control over the distribution of time spent at work and on caregiving. Some workplaces allow their employees to negotiate a work schedule based on individual needs including time extending lunch hours, banking of hours, arriving early and leaving early, etc.

Caregivers who travel to see aging parents may explore the option of a compressed work week whereby longer shifts are worked in exchange for fewer working days over a specific time period. For some families, a telework option allows an employee to work away from the workplace, usually the employee’s home and affords flexibility to organize work around family caregiving responsibilities.

For some individuals, especially women and those providing heavier levels of care, a decision to reduce the number of hours worked is the best option. This may include going from full-time to part-time or other options such as partial leave, gradual retirement and job sharing.

Some employers offer family-related leaves – variables include the length of leave, paid versus unpaid, if seniority is affected and ability to maintain benefits. Some collective agreements have a clause that allows for time off to attend emergency situations and the wording is such that it can be interpreted to include emergencies related to caring for an aging loved one.

Some employers allow employees to take leave without pay for the long-term care of family member which can vary in length from three weeks to five years. Bereavement (paid and unpaid) leave intends to give family members time to attend the funeral and to grieve the loss of an immediate family member.

Very few organizations have specific eldercare leave options however; some federal government bargaining unit agreements include long-term unpaid leave to care for an elderly relative.

Depending on your company, employee and family assistance programs (or EAP) can offer programs and services to support the physical and mental health of employees. Some of the programs extend to a family member’s dependents.

If you’ve read my column before, you’ll know I believe in planning before a crisis. It will come as no surprise when the next point raised is the importance of understanding how your company’s policies could be applied to caring for aging loved ones before it’s needed.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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