COMING IN LATE & LEAVING EARLY
As a caregiver, you know just how difficult it is to accomplish all your daily tasks for caregiving, never mind handling the job that actually pays you! One common thread for many working caregivers is the telltale symptoms of too many chores: coming into work late and leaving early. If you're not careful, doing this could get you demoted-or worse-fired.
But if you communicate with your boss and make yourself aware of the services available to you-you can make your life considerably simpler.
Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Last year more than 4 million Americans used the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to take time off from their jobs so they could care for a sick child, parent, spouse, or their own illness. The law recognizes the need to balance family and work obligations. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees and some situations are excluded, but the FMLA means your boss can't claim not to have heard of family leave if you request time off for caregiving.
Working with your boss, the human resources department, and your coworkers is key to gaining support and generating trust. You don't need to give details, but letting them know you will be caring for your mom over a three-month period while she recovers from a fall will gain their trust. It won't look fishy the fourth time you come in late or ask to leave early. With advance notice, the boss can change routines like changing the Monday-morning team meeting to Monday afternoon so you can take your mom to rehab.
Redesign Your Workweek
If you will be taking care of a loved one over an extended period of time, you might consider working with your employer to redesign your workweek. It's great if you can afford to work part-time, but flextime, telecommuting, and a compressed workweek are models that allow you to adjust your 40-hour work week around your caregiving responsibilities. Having a regular schedule will make it easier for you to communicate and coordinate with your colleagues. You won't have to check with your employer or review your schedule when you need to be available to your family member.
As gadgets become more affordable, you may be able to buy a PC, get broadband, fax, and a phone with conference-call features so you can work at home and communicate with your office electronically. Telecommuting from home is particularly practical if your work involves multiple time zones.
You work longer hours in exchange for a shorter workweek. Some employers use a compressed workweek three-fourths of the year so employees can have four-day weeks during the summer.
Employees design their own starting and finishing times, usually overlapping with regular business hours for some part of the day.
Negotiating your New Schedule
Make an appointment with the boss to discuss revising your work week. Prepare for the meeting by writing a first class proposal. The proposal should include the schedule, a plan for communicating with the office and coordinating with coworkers and clients. Is should also address any objections you foresee. The most common objections to variations in the typical work week include the following:
Rehearse your argument so you can feel confident and convincing when you talk. Keep the proposal businesslike: The goal is convince the boss your new schedule will make you more efficient, not to gain sympathy or court special treatment. Schedule a follow-up meeting where you will present a written description of your new workweek.
Important Office Habits
Life as a caregiver is rife with unexpected events that interfere with work. You never know when you will be called away or unable to get to the office. You need your own back-up plan for meeting your responsibilities when you are out of the office.
It's embarrassing to phone the boss at home at 6 a.m to say you won't make it to the sales appointment, but it gives him the opportunity to ask another employee to cover for you and gives that person time to prepare for the meeting. If your mother's situation changes at the last minute, don't hesitate to call in and say you will attend after all; but be prepared to adjust your role if your coworker has invested time in preparing for the meeting
The Clean Desk Rule
I learned to keep my desk organized so I could tell my colleagues where to find specific files. I hate to admit it, but reorganizing made it easier for me to find things. I also worked with the network administrator so others could access my computer but not my personal records.
The Appointment Calendar
I used to keep two appointment books, one for my personal life, which I kept in my handbag, and one on my desk, which covered work. My caregiving responsibilities generated a lot of schedule confusion. It's much easier to use one planner for both. This way I avoid scheduling a business meeting when I already have an appointment to drive my sister to physical therapy. Taking my appointment book home allows me to contact the appropriate person when I need to cancel a business appointment due to a medical emergency.
Coordinate with Coworkers
Circulate a memo or email announcing your schedule in advance and suggesting times when you can come into the office for meetings. Assure them that you will check your voice mail regularly, and remember to update your voice mail so callers will know when you are available. Attend meetings, even those that may seem to be tangential to your assignments so you have the opportunity to participate in planning and decision-making. Maintaining the announced schedule will convince everyone that the schedule will work. And if they make catcalls and guffaws as you leave early, just smile and say you're on the way to your night job.