Celebrating Boss's Day in Relation to Caregiving
Tuesday, October 16 marks Boss's Day in the United States. This is often a day of breakfasts, luncheons, cards, and gifts that are given to bosses by employees. Although this day provides an important way to thank our organizational leaders, I also think that Boss's Day also provides a good day to reflect on what our current corporate environment is like - and what actions our organizational leaders can take in support of caregivers.
Let me first of all say that I've been very fortunate to have worked for a number of wonderful bosses during my professional career who have coached and prodded me in achieving success and helped me to climb the proverbial corporate ladder. Each of those bosses had a "do whatever it takes" approach regarding work, whether it be demanding that I put in extra hours on the job during the day or over the weekend, or be available and willing to rearrange my schedule for a business trip. I quickly aligned myself to their demands without question. These demands didn't ever seem to be out of the ordinary, considering that I had grown up with parents who owned small businesses and who put in a lot of extra hours and sweat equity to keep their businesses running smoothly.
Used to this type of scenario, I never looked at what my professional situation was until my world came crumbling down due to Mom's diagnosis with Alzheimer's. When Mom was diagnosed, I was working as a graduate assistant at the university; this position fortunately provided me some slack to handle some of Mom's early problems. But the graduate assistantship only lasted nine months, and I had to think about finding gainful employment that would help me pay the bills and also be available to take care of Mom.
This brings me to my current boss, Linda. In June 2006, I joined the organization that she and her husband founded. In thinking about my tenure with this organization, I'd like to suggest that Linda provides a great professional model of someone who has high expectations of staff members and also who places those expectations in perspective of a person's life situation. Let me give you some examples.
Example 1: The Job Interview
When I went in to interview with Linda about possibly working for her organization, I made sure she knew that caregiving for my mother was a major priority in my life. Linda didn't flinch. She offered to let me work from home (located 2 hours away from the city where this organization is located) and was willing to negotiate how often I needed to be physically present in the office. She didn't hesitate to offer me a part-time position with enough hours to qualify for medical and dental insurance, which is an important perk for someone going through the stress of caregiving.
Example 2: The Day-to-Day Job
Linda always was very supportive of my efforts to take care of my mom. For instance, I asked that my travel be limited to a two-hour radius from my home since I was on call if Mom had a medical emergency. Linda and my colleagues were agreeable to this request. In return, I tried to take extra assignments in Houston for some of our contracts since that was within the agreed-upon radius so that Linda and my colleagues would know that I was willing to pull my share of the load. Linda and my colleagues always asked how any potential assignments fit into my assigned tasks, being careful not to burden me beyond the agreed-upon number of hours that I was supposed to work. And Linda was willing to let me set my hours so I could accomplish not only the organization's tasks, but also to be a regular presence in Mom's life (and visible at the nursing home).
Example 3: The Day After Mom Died
On the Sunday after Mom died, Linda called to share her condolences. Although much of the conversation is now a little blurry in my mind, one exchange stood out. As part of our conversation, I thanked Linda on behalf of my family and myself for providing the flexibility for me to be available to do what I needed to do for Mom. Linda's response was something to the effect of, "You know, there are more important things in life than work." I am eternally grateful for that comment, especially because I know that her actions during the previous year backed up what she said. And I also appreciate that Linda made a contribution in Mom's memory to Mom's alma mater, Missouri Valley College.
Example 4: After Mom Died
I am my mother's daughter, especially when it comes to professional commitments. And being that person, I was back on the job Monday morning (slightly more than 48 hours after Mom had died), albeit a little mentally distracted. I struggled to do some work that day, but tried to keep things flowing. I forwarded a couple of e-mails, worked on a few projects, and tried to focus. By Monday afternoon, I was exhausted, and all I could think about was taking a nap. On Tuesday morning, I read, Linda's response to one of my forwarded e-mails: "You know, you are entitled to three days off for bereavement leave." Shocked, I realized I hadn't read the policy manual and had tried, instead, to follow in the footsteps of my parents and my former bosses. Upon reading Linda's message, I realized that I did need the time off and decided to take Tuesday-Thursday off to take care of myself.
These are just a few examples of why I think we need to think through all the facets of what Boss's Day could mean in relationship to helping caregivers succeed professionally and in their role of supporting a loved one with Alzheimer's. As I mentioned earlier, I've worked for some great people who have been very supportive of my professional career. Yet I am especially thankful to have worked for Linda during the past 1-1/2 years. Linda made every effort to understand the complexities that came up for me around Mom's caregiving issues and worked with me so that I could be successful in both the professional and the personal realms.