According to CarersUK over 1 in 8 adults (roughly 6.5million) is a carer. As with most caring roles, the majority of these are women: 58 per cent to 42 per cent. The demands on a carer are well known, and it is through the support of mindful employers that employees may adequately fulfil both duties as workers and carers. It is perhaps for this reason, and the general demands that 1 in 5 carers is forced to give up work altogether due to apparent incompatibility between the roles.
As we continue to live longer, and the “oldest old” (defined as those aged over 75) population continues to grow this will no doubt become more of a pertinent issue. Indeed, it is estimated by Carers.org, that within 30-years the number of carers will increase by 60 per cent. Within my role in HR, I am often dealing with frustrated, tired and stressed employees providing care for those around them. However, more difficult and trying still, is the dual caring role, which many employees are facing, caring for both their children and parents – otherwise known as the “Sandwich Generation”.
This group faces hugely significant challenges dealing with care for their loved ones. Looking after children is not easy, but this aspect might still be easier to accept, they are born helpless and totally reliant on you. The care for an adult, a formerly ‘all-knowing’ parent or presence, is a different matter. During this change in your relation dynamic unresolved may arise – it is not unheard of for adult carers to feel resentment, anger and even extreme aspects of ill-feeling towards parent (wishing for their death is not as uncommon as many people think); these can then all manifest in guilt of the adult carer. Alone the carer might struggle along but when you have to be strong for others – in this case children and perhaps the rest of the family – it is a hard situation to find yourself. Even in the best of circumstances when these negative feelings do not exist, there might still be the guilt of not being “there” enough for one of your caring groups.
As a result of increasing geographical mobility many people now longer live further away from where they grew up and it is difficult to remotely manage the care of a parent from afar. One former colleague alternated with their siblings to visit their ailing mother aboard, another had to move into temporary contracting to accommodate the gaps they chose to live with their parent. With all these demands it can be difficult to have your career and your well-being on an even keel. This of course does not even begin to factor in special situations where disabilities, illnesses and diseases, and frailty might need to be considered. Even where these aren’t there are the emergencies that might arise! However, as a result of these demands it is particularly important that you get organised and manage these three areas of responsibility: your health, your caring responsibilities, and your career.
Firstly, admit and realise that this is a difficult situation and the pressures can be stressful. We all react differently to stressors and it is important you understand your triggers: change in your eating habits, mood swings, tiredness, difficulty sleeping, crying often, cramps, chest pains, nervous twitches or even depression: are all recognised senses of stress. If you believe you might be stressed or getting stressed then make sure you deal with the issue(s) properly.
Similarly, we all have different ways of coping and some work better than others. Try to take deep breaths, go for a walk, exercise, and watch your cigarette/caffeine/alcohol intake, and have some “alone time” to re-charge. For me, a use the ‘Quick minute’ technique: visualising the second hand on a clock turning around once. Experiment with different tools and practical methods.
YOUR CARING RESPONSIBILITIES
It is important that you understand the demands your family is going to have on your time. Some efficient people have even given their family members personal diaries and coordinate their schedules in a wall chart! Again, it depends on what works for you. The important thing is to schedule time for all the important things that are likely to arise or be classified as important: birthdays, school holiday, work events and important deadlines, medical appointments, and just “me time”. If you are fortunate enough to have some help in the form of a partner, friends, family or a professionals then make sure you use them. Delegate!
It is not a task which must be completed single-handedly. One piece of advice I was given by one incredibly organised person was to “treat your personal life like you would a business and your add your of the personal to your business”. In other words, be firm, direct and treat it like an important project!
You cannot do this on your own either – you need to get the support of your manager and the HR department. Firstly, they may have childcare vouchers to support your children; they might have counselling services when things get difficult, healthcare schemes or private medical care. Beyond this material support, sharing your thoughts on this area can be beneficial getting some emotional support too. Check if your organisation has Employee Assistance Programmes or relaxation courses or sports activities you could join. Your colleagues might also be able to support you here. Ask for their help and guidance, it wouldn’t hurt.
Just make sure you have balance between all the various areas as much as you possibly can achieve. It is difficult to juggle these parts and at some points one of these areas might get forgotten or dropped – this is fine.