When I took on caregiving duties for my mother, I was - like many other caregivers - in a slightly precarious work situation. Although I was balancing caregiving and freelancing, it became a challenge to manage both my mother's immediate care as well as my own personal matters. As I am now actively seeking full-time employment or short-term consulting, I am finding that many potential employers and my professional peers make it especially challenging...and with current caregiving trends, things need to change:
- The cost of unpaid caregiving could double by 2050, and at least one state is experiencing a shortage of paid caregivers;
- Although there are some federal policies that could positively impact caregiving, there's a curious political silence about eldercare;
- Caregiving is becoming more diverse, with 40% of men and 1 out of 4 Millennials taking on the task, and
- Caregiving duties have a greater impact on marginalized communities.
In short, caregiving is no longer a "journey" - it's a destination. Employers and peers need to be informed and account for this when making hiring decisions. So as a caregiver actively seeking work, here are some insights from my own experience:
Many employers should consider adopting more flexible remote work and family leave policies: Many jobs do not require someone to be in the office every day, and more flexible remote work policies can accommodate any employee dealing with a family emergency. Not only does this accommodate caregivers who have last-minute emergencies (or even regular issues, like helping an elderly parent get to their medical appointment), but you're also providing a perk that will attract more candidates.
If you work in human resources, consider how you're treating candidates: When you interview someone and they're not the right candidate, make sure you inform them as soon as possible - like many job seekers, I have been "ghosted" by several potential employers (and on some level, there is the slight tint of ageism). You also might want to reconsider your use of one-way video interviews; although your intention is to make it convenient for job seekers, expecting anyone to prep (including dress up) to answer questions directly into a camera as part of "screening" indicates a lack of seriousness in your candidate search...as well as a gaping flaw in your human resource process.
Even finding "side gigs" is a challenge: Although "side gigs" are one strategy that makes balancing caregiving and job searching easier, finding and starting gigs can be daunting. Although I'm very open to suggestion: one friend suggested that I start consulting with individuals and nonprofits around installing Linux distros on older hardware. (And if you're interested and have not connected with Free Geek Chicago - contact me via e-mail and we'll talk!). It's easy to see freelancing and side as "hot and sexy", but what gets lost is the fact that there are many myths about the "hustle" of the gig economy.
Networking is more than schmoozing: One particular source of personal frustration is being invited to a large "networking event when I ask for contacts in specific fields/companies. As a caregiver, my time is valuable and I have to be frugal with my resources. I've also learned from Rona Barre of Instant Access to engage in strategic, targeted networking, even to the point of having an "I Consult, Hire Me" sign up when I'm coworking to encourage conversation. Although getting out and socializing is a good thing for caregivers, our time is a resource that needs to be allocated with some discretion. Speaking of which...
It's important that you hear us: Yes, it is difficult for caregivers (especially men) to articulate our feelings, and it's often hard to hear that yes, caregiving can be especially challenging. But whether we're asking for professional contacts, employment opportunities, or even support, it's easy to know how not to say the wrong thing. (One good example: avoid the "Caregiving is a journey" cliche, especially since the introduction to this post busted that myth). Even if all you can realistically offer is moral support (by inviting us out, including us in your gatherings, etc), our "no" should not be seen as a rejection or a dismissal...because caregivers are often rarely heard by their greater community.
I hope that whether you're looking for potential job candidates, encouraging your friends who provide caregiving for their relatives, or even a caregiver yourself, understand that yes, balancing caregiving and job seeking is a challenge. Although we are enduring some tumultuous times, constant reminders that we are all enduring our own struggles, and expressing compassion, empathy, and encouragement are the best tools that help us through the worst of it. If you have questions or comments, please leave them below or join us on Facebook. And as always, thanks for reading!