Balancing the demands of work and caring for an elderly family member is a challenge faced by many in the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964). But, for entrepreneurs, the impact of being a loved one's primary caregiver can carry a heavy cost for their business.
A 2012 MetLife Study that examined the cost of informal caregiving in terms of lost productivity to U.S. businesses showed absenteeism, transitioning from full-time to part-time work, replacing employees and workday adjustments added up to between $17.1 billion to $33 billion in lost revenue.
Lisa Meeks, a geriatric-care manager and owner of Senior Care Options, has helped counsel many individuals on reducing the impact of caring for an elderly relative on career success. Here are her top four tips for entrepreneurs on managing caregiving responsibilities without sacrificing your business:
Attach a cost to your time. Meeks says the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make when balancing the demands of an elderly family members' care is underestimating the cost of their time. "They feel they'll save the money by doing things themselves and not hiring somebody [to help], but in the meantime they're not allowing for the cost of their earned revenue that is lost," says Meeks.
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She has seen many individuals who have reduced their working hours because they couldn’t manage the competing demands of a career and caregiving. "They were physically present but mentally they were checked out because they were taking care of their parent, making personal phone calls while at work, and having to leave work early," says Meeks. While Meeks has had some clients take early retirement in order to focus on caring for an elderly parent, she notes entrepreneurs often don’t have this option. “People who work in a corporate world, they may be able to take advantage of early retirement, or the Family Leave Act [but] if you’re an entrepreneur, there’s no Family Leave Act,” says Meeks.
Develop strategies for time management. Caring for a loved one can quickly drain your schedule, which is why Meeks recommends allotting a specific time in the day to address issues related to care. She speaks of a client whose mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer's, called him several times a day, constantly disrupting his work because she had forgotten that they had already spoken earlier in the day.
"We got a white board for her and we put a schedule of when they would speak every day and if she called outside of the schedule, he would let it roll to voicemail and she would write down whatever she needed to tell him so she wouldn't forget [and have to call back]," says Meeks. Setting boundaries not only helped reduce the mother's stress and anxiety but helped Meeks' client get his business day back on track by reducing interruptions.
Get involved early. Being proactive can have big payoffs. Taking care of paperwork such as powers of attorney and becoming a co-signer on bank accounts and safety deposit boxes can help avoid future stress if a loved one's health takes a turn for the worse. "Without proper paperwork, children have a very hard time accessing information regarding their parents’ care. If you try to speak to an emergency room doctor and you don’t have a power of attorney to send to them, they don’t have to talk to you," warns Meeks.
Seek support. "People self-impose the burden of caregiving,” says Meeks. “They think they need to take on all these roles of bill paying, grocery shopping, doctors' appointments [but] we find there's a high likelihood of the caregiver becoming ill because they're burning out." A geriatric-care manager can provide guidelines and make suggestions about the type of care that will be best for your loved one. "It can save you in the long run a lot of time and a lot of money," says Meeks.
Geriatric-care managers are aging and medical professionals, often nurses or former social workers or physical therapists who have an understanding of the services available in the community, meaning you don't have to take time away from your business to research all of these care options. Support groups can also be helpful.
"Other people have walked this road and they may have some great suggestions that you haven't thought of," says Meeks. Support groups and geriatric-care managers can provide important education to help you understand when the right time is to seek professional care. "[For entrepreneurs], it could save your business knowing when to get the right care in place," says Meeks. Some supports include companion care that allow your loved one to be present in their home during the time you’re at work focusing on your business and respite care that provides short-term stays in assisted living to allow you to attend to your professional or personal needs.