How to Talk to Your Boss About Your Caregiving Needs

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“Christy’s” dad, a long-time gambler and alcoholic, had burned plenty of bridges in his life. “Initially we weren’t close,” Christy said. “My parents divorced when I was 5, and he moved to the West coast.  But he wrote me letters every week and often sent gifts – cowboy boots and hats and seashell necklaces. We had a pen pal bond.”

Christy forgave her father after he re-entered her life, but by that time, Christy’s father was alone and in poor health. The responsibility for his care eventually fell to her. With a family of her own and a full-time job, Christy still found time to make frequent trips to see her father who was living several hours away. After a second stroke, her dad was admitted to a skilled nursing community just an hour away from Christy’s home.

In the last six months of her dad’s life, Christy received an estimated 50 emergency calls about him. “Every time, I would go,” she said. “At the job I held at that time, it had been acceptable to give away vacation time to another colleague, so one of my friends gave me some of her vacation hours. Eventually, I had used all of my vacation. My boss then was among the best I’d ever had but, in the end, she said: ‘I feel as though you are taking advantage. You’re always taking time off because you believe your father is going to die. But he never dies.’ ”

Like a majority of respondents in a survey of North American working family caregivers, conducted by Home Instead, Inc., franchisor of the Home Instead Senior Care®, Christy discovered caregiving put a strain on multiple aspects of her life, including:

  • Finances (Listed by 60 percent of survey respondents)
  • Physical and mental health (74 percent and 81 percent, respectively)
  • Career (65 percent)
  • Ability to manage work/life balance (83 percent)

But how can you broach the subject of family caregiving to your supervisor without the fear that you could be jeopardizing your job?

It is important to suggest ideas that work for both your employer and you, and to provide an opportunity to test out your plan to make sure that it does, in fact, work. Here are some suggestions:

“My dad needs to spend a week in the hospital next month and I would like to be with him since I am his caregiver. I have jotted down some ideas for how I could cover my job and my work while I’m gone. Could I schedule some time to discuss this with you?”

“A flexible start time would help me so much in ensuring that my father’s needs are covered before I leave for work. I believe that would help me be more productive on the job. Can I count on the company’s understanding?”

Christy never had the opportunity to have this conversation with her boss, so when the call came early one weekday morning that there was yet another emergency, Christy’s manager had had enough. “You’ve taken off so many times. We can’t let you go,” she told Christy. I thought, “Oh well, this will be like all the other times and he’ll pull through. But he didn’t. He died alone in the hospital.”

In retrospect, Christy wishes she had been more forceful, perhaps offering to take off time without pay. “But my family was young, and finances were an issue. My boss was apologetic. It was hard on her too. I think she realized then she should have let me go.”

Find more tips for working caregivers at Did you know CARP members receive a 5 percent discount on professional caregiving services through Home Instead Senior Care®? To learn more, visit