Caring for the Caregiver: Balancing Work While Caring for Others
For employee caregivers finding the right balance between employment and personal well-being can be difficult. Here are some actions employees can take to manage working while providing care, and employer-sponsored benefits that can help.
Caregiving is a selfless act, but for most caregivers finding the right balance between employment and their personal well-being can be difficult. It may seem counterintuitive for caregivers to think of themselves, but for a caregiver to effectively manage working while providing care, self-care is essential.
In the U.S. there are nearly 30 million employees juggling their caregiver responsibilities while working full-time jobs.1 The challenges that come with managing both responsibilities are substantial and can have adverse effects on the caregiver’s mental, physical and financial health. In addition, employers may also pay a price in lost productivity, which directly affects the organization’s bottom line. 2
To improve the work-life balance and well-being of caregivers, there are actions they can take and employer-sponsored benefits that may provide some help.
The majority of caregivers (78%) say they incur out-of-pocket expenses as a result of caregiving and, on average, are spending one quarter of their income on caregiving activities.3 This kind of spending can have a significant impact on long-term financial security. Caregivers should identify all financial resources that are available including government-subsidized programs that can help them shoulder out-of-pocket costs not covered by insurance. Aligning financial resources gives the caregiver a full view of what is available and the remaining expenses that may need to be covered.
Don’t Neglect Saving and Investing
Nearly half of caregivers (47%) have experienced at least one financial setback, including tapping into their personal savings, having to decrease personal spending, and reducing contributions to retirement savings and investment accounts.3
It’s common to focus on immediate needs, but it’s also important for caregivers not to lose sight of long-term goals. Caregivers should continue to make regular contributions to their retirement savings accounts if possible so they can take advantage of any tax benefits and employer contributions offered.
Look Into Favorable Tax Options
Caregivers often qualify for certain federal tax credits and deductions. The Internal Revenue Service allows individuals who meet specified criteria to be claimed as dependents on federal tax returns.4
Some out-of-pocket caregiving expenses may be deductible as well—for example, unreimbursed medical expenses and a portion of other expenses not covered by insurance. A tax advisor can help a caregiver identify the requirements for such deductions.
A solid plan begins with setting realistic expectations. A caregiver must determine how much time they can realistically commit to providing care. It is also important that the caregiver understand their limitations and when to look for outside assistance.
Call in Professional Help
Caregivers don’t have to go it alone. There are professionals who can provide assistance in navigating the complexities of providing care. Calling on professional assistance can provide the caregiver with needed time and mental energy. There are community-based resources and federal programs that provide caregivers with individual counseling, peer support, training services and more.5,6
Make Well-Being a Priority
For many, becoming a caregiver wasn’t a part of the long-term plan, but now it is a reality. The caregiver role comes with a lot of responsibility, so it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed. This is especially true for women, who account for upwards of 75% of all caregivers.7 For employed caregivers, the biggest challenge can be the emotional stress of handling both their job and caregiving responsibilities8 and this can have a direct impact on the caregivers’ physical health. Finding ways to relieve stress is critical.
For some caregivers the workplace might be viewed as a source of stress, but many aren’t aware of the wealth of resources employers may offer that provide benefits that caregivers can take advantage of.8
Explore Employee Assistance Programs
Many employers offer, as part of their benefits package, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). These programs are voluntary, confidential and designed to help employees find resolutions to personal and/or work-related problems that can adversely affect their work performance.9 EAPs provide benefits such as short-term counseling, referrals and follow-up services. Delivered at no cost, EAPs address a broad range of mental and emotional well-being concerns including stress, grief and family issues that may affect caregivers most.
Consider Contributing to a Dependent Care FSA
If offered, caregivers can benefit from contributing to a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA). Dependent Care FSAs are employer-sponsored benefits that allow caregivers to contribute up to a certain amount of their pre-tax earnings annually for dependent care expenses. The money contributed is not subject to payroll taxes, which means that the caregiver can take home more of their paycheck. As a result of not paying the payroll tax, the caregiver can contribute the full pretax amount toward eligible medical expenses for qualifying dependents.10 Dependent care can be used in connection with reimbursement for an adult who is claimed as a dependent on the caregiver’s federal tax return.11 As an added incentive, some employers may also match contributions made to a DCFSA up to a certain threshold.
The demands of caregiving extend far beyond supporting loved ones. It’s vital for caregivers to prioritize their overall well-being, which includes their financial, physical and mental health. Remember that companies perform best when their employees are at their best.