Exhausted female sitting at desk experiencing stress and career burnout.

Will it be a Career or Caregiving?

A working caregiver must be honest with him/herself and prioritize personal and professional commitments.

Reviewed by
Rick Lauber

Can you work the equivalent of two full-time jobs? Many of us, typically, will work a full-time job and between 35 – 40 hours per week. Those helping and/or supporting an aging parent, partner, or spouse at some level as a caregiver can add between 25 – 30 hours per week of additional work managing the needs of a loved one. This can add up to a 70-hour work week – sustaining this for any extended period can prove to be difficult, unrealistic, and even impossible. 

If you are presently in a challenging position where you may be trying to balance your career with caregiving (or expect this might happen in the future), something may have to change. By carefully evaluating your own situation, you may avoid reaching your own breaking point. Answering the following questions can provide better understanding of and insight into your own state as well as guide you towards making the best and wisest decision.  

Questions to ask yourself if you're experiencing caregiver burnout.

Are you feeling heightened stress?

Keeping up with the demands of two jobs can become overwhelming. With a regular job, there are duties to perform, projects to finish, and management expectations to reach. But caregivers also must manage a lengthy “to-do” list for their loved one. Multitasking may be possible in the short term, but caregiving can last for months or even years and keeping up the pace is unlikely. In addition, working caregivers may feel torn between obligations to their employer and their loved one. And feeling torn can take its toll on an individual. 

Are you taking more time off work, coming in late, and/or leaving the office early to tend to caregiving responsibilities? 

As a former co-caregiver, I recall often slipping out of work at lunchtime to run a caregiving errand. When Mom/Dad needs attention, the working caregiver must respond – sometimes immediately – and may make endless excuses to leave the office. I also faced a further problem of not having an office door which I could close if I needed to make a private phone call. 

Are you losing focus?

Working caregivers may be able to clock out from the office at 5:00 p.m. but they cannot leave their jobs helping a loved one. The reason for this is that caregiving is a job that results in constant thought. Even when I was at my desk, my mind would often wander as I was concerned about my parents’ health, constantly thinking about what needed to be done for them, and worried if my phone would ring with an “emergency”. Therefore, it became more challenging to concentrate on my regular job. Depending on the working caregiver’s job, losing focus can be unsafe. Distracted employees can put themselves and others in danger. Consider heavy equipment operators, drivers, and police officers as a few examples of higher-risk careers where an employee must always remain completely aware.

Has your job productivity been reduced?

We all have our personal limits of what we can do and accomplish. As a result of lost focus, a working caregiver may be unable to perform at the same level and/or quality. Working caregivers missing work to help a loved one will also have less time to finish regular or assigned tasks for their employer.

Are you losing enthusiasm for your regular job?

While a career can be a passion for many people, working caregivers may find their desire to work dwindling. This may be due to resentment towards one’s employer. 

Are you feeling alone?

Working caregivers may withdraw from coffee room chatter being hesitant to share personal information or feeling that nobody would understand. Even having the energy to participate in “small talk” about the weather or last night’s hockey game can be difficult. 

Have you turned down a career advancement opportunity?

Long-time working caregivers may be offered a more senior position with a company – one that comes with more responsibility and more working hours. Working caregivers may also be asked to work overtime or travel for business. Considering the further obligations and time demands, a working caregiver may turn down these opportunities.  

Are you contemplating early retirement?

Taking a graceful early exit from a career may seem like a viable answer to allow for time to manage caregiving responsibilities. Before doing so, working caregivers need to consider the consequences … will they be penalized and not receive full company retirement benefits? 

The challenges of balancing a career and caregiving are very real. Working caregivers are pulled in two different directions simultaneously. But a working caregiver must be honest with him/herself and prioritize personal and professional commitments. By doing so, the caregiver can be much happier (and healthier), become more effective, and remain in better control. You may think that you can handle it all but be truthful with yourself. Just how much can you personally do?

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