If you’re gainfully employed and spend your free time coordinating care and support for your parents, you are a working daughter (props to Liz O’Donnell, founder of workingdaugther.com for coining the term.)
Millions of daughters are working overtime to help out their parents, but many working daughters keep their “side hustle” out of the conversation at work — even as it slowly consumes them.
If you’re a working daughter (or son), there are three important conversations you should not delay.
Talking with your employer, your team, and your parents about what’s going on can relieve some of the stress by:
- connecting you with benefits you might not know about at work,
- getting you the support you need at home, and
- preparing you for the road ahead with your parents.
In this post, I’ll cover the first critical conversation: the one with your employer. In subsequent posts, I’ll cover the other two: the one you need to have with your “team” (whoever’s in this with you), and the one you need to have with your parents (or the person you’re caring for.)
Working Daughters, Talk to Your Employer
These responsibilities can creep up on you. It’s important to try to reach a sustainable agreement with your employer before you’re overwhelmed. I understand if you’re worried about disclosing your responsibilities outside of work. You’re not alone in fearing adverse reactions from your employer. That’s why before you talk to your manager, you’re going to prepare. You know your situation best, but before you decide to say nothing, know that you could be caregiving for an extended period of time — think years not months. (The average duration of a caregiver’s role is 4 years!)
Before the conversation
- Think About What YOU Want. If you’re the point person for a growing list of medical, financial, and legal tasks relating to your parents’ care, maybe it’s time to take stock. Do you want to keep growing in your career, or would you prefer a different schedule or work arrangement? Do you want support in your current role, or do you want to negotiate new responsibilities? Maybe you simply want to make your manager aware of a situation which is stable now, but may change in the near future. Thinking about what you really want is important preparation for getting it.
- Do Your Research. It’s a good time to review your job description, any contracts you signed when you started, and the employee handbook (assuming there is one.) Schedule a confidential conversation with human resources before you meet with your manager if you have benefits questions or are not sure how your employer’s policies would be applied to your situation.
- Prepare. If you’re looking for a schedule change, is there precedent at your employer for the work arrangement you want to propose? Is there another role at the company that might be a better fit right now? Come prepared with a proposal if you’re looking for a change.
- Get it Out in the Open. If you have significant outside responsibilities that could affect your schedule, your stress level, or your career ambitions it’s important to be honest about it. You don’t have to go into details, but you may find it’s a relief to get it out in the open (even if only with your manager.)
- Make a Backup Plan. I talk a lot about creating a personal emergency plan, so someone can keep things going if something happens to you. A work emergency plan is a good idea, too, especially if you’re the emergency contact for a person with fragile health. Who can fill in on your projects for a few days if you’re called out to attend to a family member? Are your files in order and accessible to others if needed? Agree with your manager on how your absence would be communicated to the rest of the team, and how you’ll keep in touch with each other in the event of a family emergency.
- Ask for Support. The more clear you are about what you want, the easier it is to ask for it. You may not get it, but if you’re upfront with your employer you have a better chance of getting the support you need.
- Reaffirm Your Commitment. If you are committed to doing your best and staying with your current employer, let them know!
After the Conversation
- Follow Up Promptly. Send an email summarizing the conversation and any follow-up tasks you agreed on. This gives your manager a chance to correct anything you may have misinterpreted and gives you a way to reflect on your initial agreement as things change.
When my mom had a stroke, the only thing the doctors could tell us with any certainty was that it was going to be a long road to recovery. I had a very demanding and highly visible job at the time and knew immediately that being there for my family was going to have an impact at work. I had a discussion with HR and my manager as soon as my mom was out of the ICU. I asked if I could use my leave to take one day off a week until the end of the summer (nearly three months.) My manager didn’t think twice about agreeing to it. I don’t know if this is typical. You may still be worried your conversation is going to be difficult, and your manager unsupportive. Maybe. You know best on this.
But here’s what I know best: if you don’t ask for support at work, you’re not going to get it. And then nobody wins. Not you, not your family, not your employer.
So, working daughters, time to take action on talking with your employer! Let me know how it goes.
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