- Do you force yourself to wake up and go to work after spending a night looking after your loved one?
- Do you often take unplanned leaves and then fret about it?
- Do you feel awkward when asking your boss for a half-day for the third time in a week?
- Do you rebuke yourself for not being able to attend that important meeting with the client because you were on hospital duty?
If you nodded a yes to even one of these, then don’t worry, you are not alone! The life of a caregiver is tough, but what’s tougher is managing your career along with your caregiver duties – it’s like burning a candle on both ends to ensure that you do justice to both the roles.
The first natural reaction or expectation when a caregiving situation pops up would be to quit your current job. Your well-meaning friends and relatives will advise “spend as much time as possible with your loved one; you will regret it if you don’t.” Especially if you are a woman, as traditionally caregiving is de facto a woman’s “duty,” you will hear things like; “quit your job and look after your in-laws, your husband is there to manage the finances anyway.”
While these seemingly well-intentioned pieces of advice may prompt you to put your career in the backburner, a more prudent solution would be to weigh in the pros and cons and introspect on your decision.
Ask yourself some critical questions like;
- Will you be able to manage your finances and financial independence without your regular income?
- Does your caretaking routine require you to be around the patient 24 hours, or can you spare a few hours to work?
- Will you be able to join the workforce again after a few years if you quit? Will your experience still be considered relevant?
Remember that your career is not JUST about the money. It also stimulates you mentally, helps you stay relevant and gives you a necessary break from caregiving for a few hours. It is your window to growth and happiness. So, let’s explore how to manage both the fronts together.
In principle, you should be able to set a fixed routine and manage both your duties efficiently. But, what if the patient suddenly develops an infection or a complication? What if their condition deteriorates further and you have to pay more attention to them? That’s when managing both the fronts becomes challenging and do remember, the concerns about the above scenarios are almost as debilitating as the actual occurrence! You will have to make appropriate decisions to ensure that you do not burnout in the process.
You might face bottlenecks in meeting deadlines and doing justice to looking after the patient. It’s not going to be a smooth journey. Here are a few options that you can evaluate. In some cases, these are not just independent options, but as the demands of caregiving changes, you may be transitioning through these as phases.
Scenario 1 – Creating alternatives within the same firm
If your caregiving responsibility is short-term, it is easier to suggest options to your manager and HR while apprising them of the situation. Paid and unpaid leaves or working from home (should your role allow you to do so!) until the patient’s condition improves are alternatives. The important reassurance you need to give is about work commitment to the allocated tasks and the appropriate number of hours. This will help win confidence early on and also ensure your own discipline. Requesting a periodic review with the manager on the work is essential so that the work ethic is appreciated despite the flexibility needed.
However, if the patient suffers from a life-debilitating condition and requires long-term care, then you will have to formulate a mutually acceptable way forward with them. You will have to consider creative solutions that are appropriate to create slack and yet allow productivity from a distance. For a start, consider talking about flexibility to work from home or to work for a few hours in the office and the rest from home or a different office branch if there is a possibility. If these arrangements can work well, then you don’t have to look further. You can plan your schedule and continue working in the same company.
Tip: You can also apply for an internal job posting (IJP) or request for one to be evaluated and transition to a less stressful role. If you have been in the company for a longer duration, it’s easier given your past track record. However, you will have to learn new skills and work with new people and will need to adjust to the new position. So, consider IJP only if you have the time to learn the skills and catch up on work quickly.
Scenario 2 – Getting alternatives elsewhere that offer more flexibility at work
If your company does not have the option of remote working or changing roles through an IJP, then you must consider looking for another job that gives you more flexibility. Many companies offer flexible work timings and work from home options to cultivate a healthy work-life balance for its employees.
Evaluate the options based on caregiver friendly policies that they may have. For example, Microsoft India offers a four-week leave for caregivers. KPMG allows your team members to donate their leaves etc. Look for companies that can provide you with these perks. One way to identify these can be to look at the Great Places to Work (GPTW) rankings in your sector for the last couple of years besides word of mouth approval from friends and colleagues. Another way is to be candid with senior colleagues who may know more or to reach out to seniors from your college etc. You can also leverage LinkedIn to identify people in companies you are targeting and that you find attractive!
Once you identify the companies with caregiver-friendly policies, design a CV that showcases specific skills, and in a cover note, make your caregiving responsibilities clear.
If you had to take a sabbatical in between, do not hide it. Mention it in your CV and highlight how you used that time to up-skill yourself. This will instil trust in recruiters and companies about your willingness to take on this challenge without compromising your career. You should also address this during the interview and let them know of your constraints. An assurance that your work will be comparable to others and a mechanism to ensure that will get you brownie points. Communicate your work schedule, availability for meetings, and travel, during the interview itself. This will help your future manager and recruiters to decide if you are the right fit for their company.
Option 3 – Try a career shift into remote working
Some jobs, such as those requiring you to face customers or working on the field or critical functions such as operations, might need you to be in office for long hours. If you don’t find an alternate role or workplace that offers work flexibility, then you might want to consider changing your career path and try remote working.
Changing your career path, especially when you are at the peak of your performance, might appear to be a gamble and brave, but in retrospect, it may well be a rewarding journey. Though it’s prudent to note that you will have to learn new skills, build new relationships, and network with people to find the right job.
Also, note that you may have to compromise on your fixed compensation as you will be starting afresh. However, if the perks of working remote seem more advantageous than the other options, then you can follow the given steps:
- Have an honest conversation about your decision with your family members. Discuss how you will manage finances, your approach, how to balance your work and caregiving duties, the support needed, and when you would require time out from your caregiving duties to focus on your career.
- If you plan to become self-employed, find companies that work with freelancers and consultants. These jobs can be related to content writing, graphic designing, recruitment, marketing or technical consultation, legal consultation, etc. You can look up for such projects on LinkedIn, TapChief, Freelance.com, UpWork, and Facebook communities. You can also request your ex-colleagues and friends to pass on your contact details or become a member of business networking groups such as BNI to get more projects and to scale your work.
- As a freelancer or a consultant, you might have the flexibility to work at your own pace and time. However, if you are working remotely as an employee, then inform your new company about your limitations in advance. This will help in setting the right expectations early on.
- Keep learning new skills related to your new profession and take proactive interest in working with your new team. This will give them confidence in your skills and will help you stay motivated.
However, here’s a word of caution – remote working and caregiving can be a lonely journey and may often leave you depressed as there is very minimal interaction with people. Also, other family members/friends may not register or take your work as seriously unless you set clear boundaries of time and space. So, find ways to combat loneliness. One way is to head to a nearby café or a co-working space to do your work or join a professional community that meets regularly. The idea is to socialize more and reduce issues caused by isolation. Socialization will allow you to meet new people, learn new things, and grow in your career.
Remember, your career is as important as looking after your loved one. It will keep you financially independent and also mentally agile. So, before hitting on the resignation button, think of alternate options, discuss with your family and friends, and then make an informed decision.
If you have any other ideas on managing your career, write to us. We will be glad to hear them.