How to Balance Work and Eldercare

Posted May 10, 2017

As the U.S. population continues to age, balancing work and unpaid eldercare is becoming a challenge for many employees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says about 60% of eldercare providers in 2013 to 2014 were employed, and almost half were employed full-time.

For anyone trying to balance work and eldercare, ongoing communication is key.

“Never, ever surprise the boss,” says Liz O’Donnell, founder of, a website for women balancing careers and eldercare.

It’s a hard job, but it can be done. Here’s how to find balance between work and eldercare.

Know Your and Your Loved One’s Rights

Becoming an expert on what you and your loved one are entitled to can help ensure you get the support you need, experts say. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s report “Enforcement Guidance: Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities” provides information about employment rights that are protected under federal law, says Mary Spengler, CEO of Hospice of Westchester. In addition, you may be eligible to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act without risk of losing your job or benefits to care for a family member, Spengler says.

And your relative may be entitled to programs, services and benefits that can help relieve some of the cost and burden of care at home, Spengler says. The National Council on Aging’s BenefitsCheckUp tool provides information on these resources.

Ask Your Employer for Support

Flexible schedules, paid family leave policies, eldercare referral programs and assistance with personal errands are some of the options your employer might offer, O’Donnell says. Check in with your HR manager to determine the kinds of benefits that might help lighten the load.

Also, if your workplace doesn’t have a formal flexible work option, it doesn’t hurt to try to establish one. Telecommuting may be an option for some hours or days, for example. Talk with your manager about some of the ways the work can be covered if you need to leave, O’Donnell says, and save your work to the server, if possible, so everyone can access it if you’re not there.

Make Time for Yourself

Even professional caregivers face burnout on the job, and the emotional toll of taking care of aging relatives can disrupt both your work and personal life. Focusing on your own well-being is vital, experts say.

“It’s so easy for caregivers to become completely overwhelmed with daily tasks that you forget about the next day and the day after that,” says David Ellenwood, founder and CEO of Sunny Days In-Home Care. “One thing you don’t want to put off for too long is your own well-being. Make sure that remains a constant priority to avoid burnout or resentment toward your loved one.”

Prioritize the things that need to be done right away while acknowledging that some things can wait, Ellenwood says.

“There’s never enough time in the day to accomplish everything you hope to,” he says. “And guess what — that’s OK.”

If you feel like you’re burning out and don’t know where to turn, check whether your employer offers an employee assistance program, which can provide resources and recommendations for support.