Malaysia is currently facing the prospect of an ageing population, and the latest statistics revealed that at present, the number of Malaysians aged 60 years and above is estimated to be 2 million and is projected to increase to 3.5 million in 2020.
As Malaysians continue to age, more and more people are stepping into the role of family caregivers. In honour of Family Caregivers Month that is celebrated globally in November, let’s take this opportunity to recognize and honour family caregivers across Malaysia.
Family members are usually the ones taking on the role as primary caregivers for their seniors by providing long-term support during their recovery and care journey. But who takes care of the caregiver? How does the caregiver handle the dual role of juggling work and caring for their loved one at home without burning out?
With this year’s theme being “Caregiving Around The Clock”, the reality is that the role of a caregiver does not have a clear ending point. Whatever your situation is as a working caregiver, here are some tips to help you find balance to better navigate work and caregiving.
1. Read your employee handbook and talk with your human resources department about your situation
If you need to take time off due to caregiving responsibilities, don’t hesitate to suggest solutions like working remotely from home, job-sharing and taking leave. Your company may have policies on caregivers that could apply to you. That way, you can be a valuable employee and an effective caregiver with a few adjustments. Be sure to have a backup plan for work if you need to deal with immediate caregiving crisis.
2. Optimise your work schedule
Try suggesting a flexible working schedule to your supervisor or employer — perhaps starting your workday later so you can help your loved ones in the morning. Adjust around your busy and not so busy days and times. For example, you may choose to work from 10am to 6pm, or from 7am to 3pm. You might also want to try working a compressed schedule: work four longer days and have the fifth day off (or nine longer days and the tenth day off).
In some cases, caregivers reduce work time by sharing a job with another employee, or changing to a part-time job, if needed. If your company offers a phased-in retirement plan, you could gradually cut back on hours.
3. Communicate clearly within the workplace
If you’re caring for a loved one, it is important that your company has some idea of your added responsibilities and caregiving obligations as it is a significant part of your life. Making it known that you have an important commitment to your employers and your colleagues— that you’re making every effort to continue to put in 100% at work makes you a transparent and responsible person to your job. Don’t wait for an emergency to bring this topic up. It’s easier for your company to be supportive if you’re a productive member of the team. This dispels office gossip, especially when you have a caregiving emergency to run off to and people always seek to empathise if they are in the know about your role.
4. Ask about any company benefits that can help family caregivers
Often times if not always, taking unpaid leave would mean taking a pay cut, which is not effective if you are a long-term financially providing caregiver.Some employers offer Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits or counseling, information and referral, eldercare assessments, legal assistance, financial counseling or help with insurance issues. A few companies even help pay for back-up eldercare if your caregiving plans fall through and you need to work. Your company may also offer things that help you, such as on-site support groups, point-to-point services (to help with running errands etc.), health and wellness programs or discounts that help you take care of yourself too.
5. Keep work separate from caregiving
While this may be hard, but as much as possible, try to juggle with caregiving duties only during your personal hours, rather than during work hours. Schedule calls and doctor’s appointments during your lunch hour, and do your research on your care receiver’s condition after you’ve gone home for the day. During work hours, try getting help from trusted local caregiving services for some flexible caregiving options or allow other family members to step in.
6. Remain open to other available options around you
If you reach a point where you need more support and assistance with caregiving, here are some resources you can look into:
- Adult daycare: These centres provide care and supervision outside the home for adults with special needs. They offer social and therapeutic activities in a safe environment while providing meals, personal care and medical care. Some centres also offer counseling and transportation to and from the centre.
- Nursing homes: Nursing homes provide residential care for the elderly. They will help you sort out and organise your life as they take care of your elderly loved ones. A nursing home facility may be the better choice for people who require 24-hour medical care and supervision.
- Home care services: Engage with a trusted home care provider and leave your loved ones in the care of experienced caregivers or nurses. They usually provide nursing care, personal care, transportation, social interaction, and some even offer medical escort services when you need help for a few hours in a day, or quick check-in visits when you are not able to be there on a busy day or when you go for a work trip.
7. Consider conversations with family and close friends to care together
Caregiving is not a one man’s role. By asking friends and family to come in to anchor caregiving together, seniors will also know that there are others who care for them and love them as much as you do.
By sharing the responsibility with siblings or close friends, they will not only know what it’s like to take care of seniors but are empowered to be well informed about what to expect in old age in the future. Seniors are also able to socialise with people which can be good for their social interaction. With the shared role of helping your senior loved one together, you are also helping yourself find space and time.
8. Schedule some time to unwind
Last but not the least, take good care of yourself. It can be overwhelming to meet everyone else’s needs including your loved ones’, all while building your career. Often overlooked as an afterthought, scheduling some “me-time” on your calendar is vital for one’s mental health, even if it’s just an hour slot to do something to unwind such as exercising or catching up with some friends. Don’t skimp on that sleep, which is often the first thing we sacrifice when we are busy— but also, it is what we need the most to remain sane and keep the body physically rested.
Focusing on caregiving duties for your loved ones while working does not make you an irresponsible employee. As long as you make it clear to your company about your external responsibilities, there will be ways to balance caregiving, life and work. Use the time you have to do what really matters, even if that is to take care of your own wellbeing. As much as you can, do remain open to all possible solutions and communicate honestly with the people in your life in case you are in need of some assistance. Another tip is to talk to others who have had past experiences as they can sometimes help remove fear of the unknown.