Flexible Workplaces Critical for Alzheimer's Caregivers

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • I get Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision about telecommuting. I’ve been in a managerial role with staff members who are located in a variety of locations. I understand the need for face-to-face contact in order to brainstorm and strategize. I appreciate the role that the “water cooler” – whether that be the coffee pot in the break room or the ping pong table in some high tech company – plays in a dynamic organization that is trying to push the edges. It’s the synergy that conversations can bring that can make a difference in an organization’s balance sheet.

    I also understand the other argument. Well, let me clarify – I am a single woman who is not caring for young children. Instead for the past eight years I have been in a caregiving role, first for my mother who had Alzheimer’s disease and secondly, for my father whose mental capacity is intact but who has some physical issues. And in that role, I can’t tell you how important it has been for me to have the ability to have flexibility in the workplace.

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    It turns out that I’m not alone. A poll by Workplace Options found that more than 1 in seven Americans who work are currently in or have been in caregiving roles for someone with dementia. Among these people, 47 percent were able to remain working while providing care. However, The Shriver Report: A Woman’s National Takes on Alzheimer’s found that 69 percent of those who are currently working or did work while providing care had to modify their schedules. The poll also found that:

    • 32 percent were forced to take a leave of absence.
    • 26 percent changed jobs in order to take a less demanding role.
    • 23 percent went from working fulltime to taking a part-time position.
    • 20 percent reported that their work performance suffered and they faced possible dismissal
    • 24 percent had to give up working entirely.

    For the two years that I served as Mom’s caregiver, she was in a nursing home, so I was spared the minute-to-minute dealings with her. However, because she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, I had to be on-call to deal with the emergencies that would crop up. Furthermore, since I was the only person in the area who knew Mom, I was the person who had to keep the nursing home accountable. I learned that being visible at various times got the staff’s attention and they took better care of Mom. This was especially important when I started coming in at random times to find that Mom’s oxygen canister was empty. And quite frankly, I couldn’t have done that without flexibility in the workplace.

    Fortunately for me, I was given the opportunity to work from home during this time period. When necessary, I went into the office for meetings, but I also made sure I was available for phone calls to discuss projects. I regularly checked email. I tried to be hyper-vigilant in communicating with my boss and my co-workers about my assignments, timelines and deadlines.

    Therefore, I think it is possible have a work environment that includes telecommuting. So having been on both sides of the situation, I think the responsibility falls on both sides of the desk – the manager and the staff member. Based on my experiences, here’s what I suggest to make it work:

    • The manager needs to set clear expectations of job responsibilities, projects, timelines and an accountability system. The manager also needs to set up regularly scheduled calls with the staff member in order to check in.
    • One area that was difficult for me as an employee was not getting timely feedback because I wasn’t in the office to remind the manager that I was waiting for him/her. Therefore, the manager needs to be ready to give more feedback on a regular basis on written materials and then follow up by phone call in order to gain understanding.
    • Utilize all existing technology. During the period I was caring for Mom, “the cloud” was just beginning to come into being. Now I’d suggest utilizing it as well as video-technology and group meeting websites in order to hold meetings.
    • The manager should schedule regular face-to-face meetings in which the staff member who is telecommuting comes into the office for team meetings. The staff member also should use this time to meet with other key people in the office in order to build relationships.
    • The employee who works at home does need to take the onus to keep everyone on the work team apprised of a project’s status. In fact, I’d suggest erring on the side of over-communicating what you’re doing.

    Having employees in different locations can make it very difficult for managers to create a well-functioning team. However, it is possible through building strong relationships between manager, the staff member and the work team that are grounded in trust, communication and vision. And speaking for people who are in caregiving roles for an elder and who need flexibility in the workplace, these employers who offer flexibility are the ones we will seek out and who will benefit from our skill set.  These are the companies of the future.

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    Primary Source for This Sharepost:

    Kay, A. (2013). At work: dementia affects companies. USA Today.

    Workplace Options. (2013). National poll reveals new look at the impact of dementia on U.S. Workforce.

Published On: February 28, 2013