The double whammy of caregiving and working

Many people who are in the workforce are also caregivers; to put it another way, many caregivers also work. This dual responsibility has many important implications, both for the caregiver and for the employer. According to Statistics Canada, there were 8.1 million Canadians who provided unpaid care to an individual in 2012, and those numbers have likely increased. Of those 8.1 million caregivers in the workplace, 70% worked primarily full-time; this means that a significant number of caregivers are affected by the double stressors of both full-time employment and caregiving. The resulting stress can be physical, emotional, and financial for both caregivers and employers.

What struggles do caregivers face? What impact does this have?

Responsibilities, stress, and time spent caregiving can negatively impact a caregiver’s physical, psychological, and emotional health. According to the Government of Canada, 74% of caregivers provide nine hours or less of caregiving per week, while 16% provide 10-29 hours, and 10% provide 30 hours or more. The more time a person spends caregiving, the more their health and wellness can be negatively affected.

Emotional and psychological distress, including depression, anxiety, and isolation, are common in working caregivers. They may also experience anger, frustration, irritability, unhappiness, or disrupted sleep. This can affect their performance both at work and while caregiving. Physically, caregivers are more likely to sustain an injury from their caregiving responsibilities and are more likely to seek medical help from prescribed medication to cope with responsibilities.

Caregiving can also impact financial stability. Some working caregivers have to take time off from work, which can result in lost income. In 2013, the McGill University Health Centre reported that 29% of care- givers incur financial costs related to their caregiving responsibilities, and 27% have lost income due to their caregiving.

Why should employers care?

Employers who accommodate the needs of caregiver employees can help reduce caregiver stress and thus encourage higher productivity. Employers who are aware of their employees’ caregiving reality and provide them with the support and flexibility they may need are likely to reap the benefits of having a healthier, happier employee, and this in turn improves the health and wellness of the company.

Why is it important to recognize caregivers’ struggles?

Working caregivers play an essential role in their families, communities, and workplaces. Recognizing their needs is the first step to adapting our workplaces and community life to support the important work they do. Understanding leads to action, which leads to change.

The Canadian Standard Association (CSA) developed a Caregiver-Friendly Workplaces standard (B701), to help employers address this important issue. Employers interested in exploring ways to recognize and support caregivers will find helpful guidance in the standard.

What about working caregivers during the pandemic?

The pandemic has had a tremendous impact on so many working positions. Many people lost their jobs and others shifted to working from home. Still others worked under trying and even dangerous conditions. Caregivers had to deal with these seismic shifts while still providing care to a loved one. There have been both benefits and drawbacks for caregivers—for example, working from home can make some aspects of caregiving easier, but it can mean never having the chance to take a break. As pandemic restrictions ease, workplace situations are shifting again. We hope that these massive upheavals will bring change for the better.

– Gabrielle Lesage
From Share&Care Fall 2021.