Caregiver Friendly Workplaces – Are You There Yet?

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I enjoy reading Abilities Magazine. I always find useful information, new products, and inspiring stories of people that overcome adversity and disability. In the recent issue I was intrigued, and pleased, to see an award now offered by the Canadian Abilities Foundation to organizations that are Caregiver Friendly.

The magazine reports: “in recent years, forward-thinking businesses and organizations have begun to recognize the value of supporting employees who are caregivers…the Caregiver-Friendly Workplace Award, presented in partnership with Canada Cares, is provided to organizations who are leaders in this area”.

Would your organization be in the running?

Working as an occupational therapist I am reminded daily that life can change in an instant. Often, amidst the trauma of an accident or illness, families are thrust into a new role. Sometimes the role is advocate and acting power of attorney at a hospital 24/7. Or, it is providing direct care to someone now using a wheelchair who can’t independently toilet and bathe. Maybe it is emotional support via conversations and sleeplessness nights to help someone lower their anxiety or deal with depression. An ailing parent might need rides to the doctor, specialists and pharmacy. A loved one with cancer might need help with instrumental activities like groceries, shopping and banking while they recover from surgery or treatment. The bottom line here is that in the course of our working lifetime, we will all likely be in a caregiving role. From parents with young kids, to the sandwich generation and baby boomers, taking care of others is inherent to being human.

Employers need to recognize that at times employees will need to be awarded some empathy, compassion and flexibility if they are required to care for others. While in Ontario people can apply for a 30-day Compassion Care Benefit through Employment Insurance, this may not be enough. Often caregiving responsibilities extend far beyond a month into years and decades.

Caregiving requires a lifestyle change – a shift in priorities, a new schedule, and emotional resilience. Thus when an employee is thrust into an often challenging life change involving caregiving responsibilities, employers need to find a way to bridge the gap, offer alternative work arrangements, provide a supportive ear, and patiently await the development of routines that will hopefully include the one-day return of the employee to regular work hours and duties.

If you are an employer that offers compassion, support, and flexibility to your caregiving employees, let the Canadian Abilities Foundation hear your story. Be recognized for the culture you are creating at your workplace and know that you are setting an example for other organizations that still need to rise to the challenge.