Are You a
Caregiver? Reduce the Stress in Your Life and Find Focus at Work
By David A. Travland, Ph.D. and
While daily living can certainly be stressful, nothing
compares to the level of stress faced on a daily basis by
caregivers. How can caregivers continue to give their best
performance at work with caregiving chores hanging over their heads
before, during and after work? How can caregivers concentrate on
their jobs under all that pressure?
We know that stress adversely affects employee performance.
What we may not know is how things at home affect the ability of
employees to concentrate on their work. A family healthcare crisis
can create enormous stress for employees, whether it be a sick
child, an elderly parent or an ill spouse, especially if long-term
or permanent care is required. How does the average employee (or
manager, for that matter) handle these health care situations? Do
they come to their supervisor, spell out the details of their
domestic obligations and ask for help? Not likely. Most working
Americans play their home lives pretty close to their chests.
Family matters are considered private. In fact, one of the big
frustrations of self-help organizations is that caregivers tend not
to self-identify; that is, they don’t even define themselves as
“caregivers” and thus are not motivated to attend support groups.
Outreach is a continuous challenge for such organizations which, in
good faith, have the desire and capability to be of help.
Why is caregiving so stressful? Those who volunteer to care
for a beloved family member who has become chronically ill or
disabled are indeed heroes. They deserve the respect and gratitude
of extended family and the community at large. However, the very
admirable qualities that make them dedicated and self-sacrificing
are the reasons they are vulnerable to stress symptoms, and in
extreme cases, burnout. They are compassionate to a fault. They are
inclined to give their all at their own expense.
This kind of chronic caregiving is stressful for a variety of
someone chronically sick or disabled is often expensive, putting
a strain on the family budget.
takes an emotional toll. The personal lives of caregivers are
dominated by the elephant in the room; that is, there is no end
to what needs to be done for the care recipient, so there is
needs are not being met; there is no time for play, for rest,
In the case of
the ill spouse, the caregiver’s pal is not available so
companionship and intimacy needs are not being met.
to get minimal support from extended family. Family and friends
are happy they don’t have to make these sacrifices, so they
often just stay away.
deprivation is very common among caregivers. The needs of the
care recipient don’t go away at bedtime.
Symptoms at Work:
under siege all the time. Those who know them well can readily see
that something is wrong. Caregiver stress can take the following
forms on the job:
attention during meetings or conferences
deadlines on more than one occasion
tardiness arriving at work
doing computer research on company time
depressed demeanor, diminished sense of humor
normal speech pattern
eagerness to leave work at the end of the day
If you are an employee and a caregiver, here are resources to
look into: Caring for a loved one is admirable but typically
caregivers put their own needs and comfort on hold in deference to
the needs of the care recipient. Before it is too late and burnout
takes its toll, caregivers need to take inventory of the sacrifices
they have made and the stress that is created because important
needs (such as free time, reading, travel, companionship, etc.) are
not being met. Then they need to make a commitment to make the
necessary changes in their routines and find more balance and time
frequent breaks from caregiving duties. Find a way to get
relief, whether by prevailing on family members to fill in, day
care programs with nursing homes, volunteer organizations,
sitting services, or whatever can be arranged. No excuses. Do
Find someone to
confide in, such as a professional counselor. You may tell
yourself you don’t need to talk to someone, but that is
baloney. Caregivers need the kind of perspective that comes
from opening up to someone.
Get more sleep.
What Should the
large and small, private and public, are impacted by the caregiver
stress problem. It is estimated that there are in excess of 50
million caregivers – about half of these are caring for a spouse –
in this country, so the odds are in favor of some significant
percentage of your employees are caregivers. Here are some steps to
minimize the adverse impact of home caregiving responsibilities on
should communicate to all employees that the organization
understands that providing care to relatives, children, and
spouses is part of being a responsible family member. The
company plans to provide whatever support is possible to help
employees stay focused at work and live a balanced lifestyle.
supervisors should receive special training to spot symptoms of
caregiver stress. They should be taught how to initiate
communication with these employees in a way that will encourage
them to open up and talk.
managers should be given special instructions and training on
how to create workable strategies for helping caregiver
employees work out a program that will bring relief at home, and
restore productivity at work.
Those at work
may be the first to recognize the employee is suffering
debilitating stress symptoms as a byproduct of caregiving. If
the organization has an Employee Assistance Program, care should
be taken to ensure that program makes provision for supporting
caregivers in distress. A strategic alliance can be formed with
existing self-help organizations, such as the Alzheimer’s
Association or the M.S. Society. They would welcome the
opportunity to cooperate with your organization.
employees are an organization’s most important asset, and should be
treated accordingly. Caregivers are characterized as charitable,
goal-directed, hard-working and productive. The qualities that make
them good caregivers also make them wonderful employees. It is in
your organization’s long term economic interests to recognize
caregiver stress, and respond constructively to that knowledge.
Read other articles and learn more about
David and Rhonda Travland.
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