Be sure to view the Elizz Caregiver Work Life Balance infographic for more tips.
While achieving work life balance can be difficult for many people, it can be especially difficult for family caregivers.
Work-life balance is a process where an individual attempts to balance his/her responsibilities with time for oneself.
According to Statistics Canada (2012), almost half (46 per cent) of the people living in Canada (or 13 million people) have cared for a family member or some other person they love who has a disability, an age-related illness, or a long-term health condition.
Surprisingly, women represented only 54 per cent of this number, despite completing more caregiving activities each week than their male counterparts.
In regards to time commitments, most family caregivers spend at least three hours per week assisting disabled or ill family members / friends, while also spending 14 hours per week caring for a spouse, and 10 hours per week on children.
Age-related issues are the usual reason for family caregiving, but care can also be required for cancer, mental illness, cardio-vascular disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Most caregivers can relate to this type of time commitment and also know that attempting to balance your life while taking on these caregiving duties can be daunting.
What is work life balance?
Work-life balance is a process where an individual attempts to balance his/her responsibilities with time for oneself. It means giving yourself enough time to enjoy a bath, see friends, or generally decompress after a stressful day.
Stress and work life balance are often at odds with each other.
You may find that your caregiving activities are interfering not only with your mental, physical, and emotional health, but also with your employment, other formal commitments outside of the home, your finances, or your relationships with friends and family.
As a productive individual who either works full-time, part-time, or has other formal commitments, caregiving for an individual while trying to work can be exhausting.
Some employers are not as tolerant of those who must take time off work to care for an aging parent and may put pressure on you to make up your lost hours. This lost time directly affects your financial situation, which can be compounded by costs that are not covered by the government now falling to you.
Financial strain can be one of the largest issues in a marital relationship or partnership.
When finances become a concern due to lack of time at work (with no coverage), or expenses are incurred as a result of your caregiving role, you may find yourself arguing more with your partner and not having the resources to take your usual family holidays. This can lead to strained relationships with not only your partner, but your children, and the one you are caring for as well. See our Elizz article on Government Programs and Funding for Caregivers in Canada.
When you are having difficulty finding a work-life balance, you may become aware of things like sleeplessness and extreme fatigue, emotional eating, and having less patience with friends and family, including the person for whom you are caring.
This lack of work life balance can lead to your own illness or disease, which adds emotional pressure to you as you may find it more difficult to care for your family or friends, or find the positive things in your caregiving experience. See also our Elizz caregiving article on Caregiver Burnout.
How to achieve work life balance - what you can do
As caregivers, each of us has a responsibility to stop and recognize when our life is imbalanced. By being aware and having an action plan ready, you will keep your mental, physical, and emotional health at its optimum and be better equipped to fulfill your role as a caregiver.
Here are eight areas of your life where you may find you are out of balance and potentially dissatisfied. These eight factors affecting work life balance include:
1. Employment and Volunteer Work
How satisfied are you with how your own employment, volunteering, or formal commitment needs are being met while acting as a caregiver? Are there employment conflicts?
Are finances becoming an issue for you, your family, or the person you are caring for?
3. Physical, Mental and Emotional Health
How satisfied are you with having time for your own mental and physical health? Are your caregiving experiences and role conflicts preventing you from looking after your own health needs? Do you feel confident in your caregiving duties or do you require more knowledge, skills or resources? How well do you manage the emotional aspects of providing care such as guilt, fear, and depression or sadness?
4. Family and Relationships
How satisfied are you with your family’s involvement, support, and knowledge (including spouse, children, siblings, neighbours, and other extended family)? Has the quality of your relationships been affected by your caregiving role?
5. Practical Skills and Knowledge
How satisfied are you with the information you have been provided in regards to managing behaviours, practical strategies, the disease process, or reintegrating after the caregiving is complete?
6. Social Connections
Do you have an opportunity to share and benefit from other caregivers’ experiences, give mutual support, and increase connections among other caregivers? Do you have someone to rely on for emotional and social support? If yes, how satisfied are you with this part of your life?
7. Formal and Informal Supports
How satisfied are you with the help you have available for yourself and the one you care for (i.e. respite, personal support care, and transportation services)? Are you satisfied with the quality of services and support you have? Do you require more support that you are not eligible for or cannot afford to access?
8. System Navigation
How well informed do you feel about how the caregiving system actually works, what services and resources are available, and how to access these caregiver services?
Caregiver tips on how to achieve work life balance
Here are some suggestions to help you create more balance in your life and in your role as a caregiver:
Speak to Your Supervisor / HR Department
If you are employed and need time off, speak to your employer and create an action plan. Most employers recognize that employees are in that sandwich generation where they are caring for both their children and aging parents. Being allowed to speak to your coworkers to let them know what you are going through will also help you prevent resentment when they must take on your work that is not being completed.
Make time for things that give you energy and help you recharge
As a caregiver, you may find that you are the last person on your list who receives attention. Taking time to discover hobbies or activities that increase your energy will have a positive effect on your mental, physical and emotional health.
Plan a Family Meeting
It is a good idea to have a family meeting, which includes all members, to discuss who is going to do what and when the person performing the care may not be available. Planning this before the caregiving actually takes place and having monthly family meetings (as check-ins) can assist to prevent resentment from partners and children. Keeping connected through an online system, like Tyze, is another way to increase the amount of communication. The more informed everyone is about what is happening, the more people will know where they can contribute and reduce duplication of efforts.
Seek Medical Advice
Don’t let medical issues sneak up on you. If you are experiencing changes in your mood, diet, sleep patterns, or energy levels, speak to your doctor or other health professional.
Seek out Resources
As a caregiver, you are not expected to know everything. You may have questions about the type of illness you are dealing with, how to manage behaviours (when they are not positive), or just generally how to navigate the caregiving system. Look to people like your family doctor and local non-profits who have experience. They can provide a wealth of information to assist you or point you in the right direction.
Find a Support Group
Lastly, and most importantly, to help you find and maintain a good work life balance, you should find a group of people who are going through a similar situation. You will need (and want) the opportunity to share your fears, guilt, and sadness, as well as your successes. These people are your peers and can be your sounding board as well as your champions.
You are not alone in this caregiving process and without people like you; millions of individuals would not have the comfort or support to continue on living independently.
Applaud yourself for your commitment while at the same time; recognize that you need support as well.
It is essential that you become aware of and understand the importance of work life balance. Read more about caregiver work life balance.