According to a Merrill Lynch study, 8 in 10 Americans believe caregiving is the new normal.
Forty million Americans are caregivers. To offer some perspective, that’s almost as many as the number of Americans with student debt. And the study estimates 7 in 10 Americans will need care for an extended period in their lives.
So, it’s perfectly logical employees will at some point in their careers have to discuss caregiving with their manager. An increasing number of organizations are supportive of caregivers, but many don’t have formal policies or benefit plans in place. For employees, it’s possible the request for caregiving support could be new territory — not only for the individual but for the organization.
Here are five steps that could help a caregiving conversation:
1. Learn what the company currently offers. Marcy Ledford, health and productivity director for Unum, suggests reviewing your paid and unpaid time off benefits such as family leave, vacation or other paid time off, and Family and Medical Leave Act programs that protect pay and benefits. Your company may have an employee assistance program that can offer a wide range of support services for caregiving and caregivers. Also investigate financial wellbeing and counseling programs that might provide help with or reimbursement for elder care services.
2. Figure out your needs. Caregivers might not know exactly what support they need, and their needs often change over time. Ledford recommends making a list of caregiving challenges and possible solutions. “Educate yourself on company policies related to caregiving, paid time off, benefits, etc. Then, ask your manager (or better yet, human resources) to brainstorm potential needs. It’s possible they’ve been through this situation with other employees.”
3. Plan the conversation. Not only do you want to have your research ready but think about the best time and way to present the case. Try to schedule a time to discuss this with your manager. This isn’t a conversation to have in a hallway between meetings. Be prepared to address the obvious objections such as, “How will all the work get done?” and “What will the rest of the team think?” Companies do want to be supportive. They also need to treat employees fairly and get things done.
4. Don’t look for an immediate “yes.” Your manager might ask for time to think about the request, especially if requires discussion with human resources or senior leadership. Ledford says employees can end the conversation asking about next steps. “At the time of the request, employees and managers can determine the best follow-up measures, such as how long the employer needs to make a decision and the best manner — email, in-person, phone — for following up.”
5. Consider a “Plan B.” As much as you research and plan your conversation, you have to face the reality the company might say “no” to your request. It could make sense to think about a possible contingent strategy on the front end, so you’re prepared. Also, it might come in handy if the company comes back with an alternate suggestion for you to consider.
Being a caregiver is a huge responsibility. It takes a lot of time, energy, and personal resources. Organizations realize this and want to be supportive. But often, managers don’t know the best way to do that and each caregiver is going to have unique needs. That’s why researching, planning, and lots of conversations are necessary to create a win for everyone involved — including the person receiving care.