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Return to work programs for Carers in all shapes and forms: Elder Care

This series of case studies and personal accounts will outline areas of return to work that should be considered within organisations. It is important that work places are safe and supportive. If there is any area of returning to work you are unsure of please contact us (02) 8624 3300.

A Balancing Act for Employees and Employers
Part 2 of our Health and Wellbeing Series

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 A Balancing Act for Employees and Employers

There are many aspects that can make this process seem daunting. Budget, time and productivity pressures can make it difficult, however learning to manage an employee returning to work after any reason for being absent (death, relationship breakdown, maternity/paternity leave, mental health, extensive carers leave etc.) has many positive benefits.

While it might take up some extra time in the early stages, getting a valued employee back to work can save your business both time and money in the long run. Laying the foundations for strong relationships between an employer and a returning employee is likely to play a key role in successful return to work.

Employees with carer’s responsibilities; a balancing act…
A practical guide and a personal experience

Elder care responsibilities are a grwoing theme for many employees. The need for emergency care and a sudden change to the living arrangements for the elderly parents of employees can occur unexpectedly. Examples can include the sudden deterioration of the health of a parent or mishaps such as falls and breaking bones. Sometimes, one parent is already taking care of the other parent and the main carer may no longer be able to take care of their partner.

Finding our elders/parent/s unable to care for themselves and needing the specialist care of medical staff, aged care facilities or the regular assistance of Care Workers in the home is a big change to say the least!Employees needing to ‘drop everything’ and deal with their parent’s change of situation and health can be very stressful and time-consuming. For employers there is concern for their staff member and their family situation, as well as taking care of business.

While every situation will be unique with its own story and particular set of family complications, it is beneficial for organisations to be mindful that these situations can occur. Be aware that the assistance of the employer will be important to helping their employee to manage through their issues and this will help get their family situation on track and help the employee to return to work as stress-free as possible.

These tips could be helpful for you and your employees:

1. Information
Encourage your employee to get all the information they need about the current situation.Information can help people take control of the things that they can control including how they respond to a situation. When we lack information we may imagine the worst or feel helpless and not make the ‘right’ decisions. Encourage your staff member to get the information they need for their situation such as medical information about their parent’s illness or accident and what to expect as a result of this, information about respite care and respite care rules, aged care facilities, costs, financial assistance and also care agencies that can provide in home help.

2. Flexible Working Hours
Time off will be needed in the first instance of any emergency. In the following days and weeks, offering flexibility with working hours where possible will be helpful for employees and could help with a variety of things including:

  • The need to visit parent/s on a daily basis, particularly in the early stages of a situation
  • Meetings/appointments with medical or care staff about their parent’s situation
  • Visiting aged care facilities for a respite care solution or long term aged care solution
  • Meeting with care providers and making arrangements for in house care on a regular basis
  • Dealing with urgent financial and legal matters that may arise as a result of the situation

3. Employee Assistance Program
Remember to offer your Employee Assistance Program counselling service to your staff member. If you don’t have a program like this you could encourage them to seek counselling or discuss this with their family doctor.It is very important for the employee to consider their own health during these times.

4. Checking in
During the initial stages of emergency and the following days and weeks it is good to just check in with your employee occasionally even when they are back to their normal working hours, and ask your employee how things are going. Try to empathise and support them through their unique situation. Your reassurance can put your employee at ease and keeps them connected to their workplace.

5. Contingency plans for the Employer
Having a contingency plan for these scenarios do not need to be complicated. Take some time in a meeting with your leadership team to brainstorm a contingency plan for covering emergency absences for different levels of employees.Options can include scenarios for reorganising work, obtaining casual staff, using emergency succession planning options or giving employees development opportunities to step up (higher duties) temporarily. Should the time arise when you need to invoke your plan, regardless of the nature of the employee absence, you will ready to support your employee and your clients.

A personal account, two parents ‘one' daughter
My father had been caring for my mother for some time, and dealing with all the household matters as Mum found it harder to physically move about and dementia was setting in.

I was just about to walk into my workplace at 8.10am at Macquarie Park after struggling through the traffic when my sister called from Canberra saying she’d been speaking to Dad on the phone and there was ‘something wrong with Dad’ and could I go and see him (at their home in the Hills District). I found myself turning around, calling my husband to go to Dad’s, calling Dad’s doctor and getting back in my car and straight back into the traffic to my parent’s home.

Suffice to say an ambulance was called and I said to Dad, “I will stay with Mum”, and he said, “No, Mum will need to go to a nursing home – you can’t look after her.”

As it turned out Dad was experiencing appendicitis, he had a heart attack on the way to the operating theatre and ended up in intensive care and after a long period, recovered.

On that day I found myself arranging for emergency respite care for my Mother, hunting through Mum’s things to pack a bag and following a transport ambulance containing my Mother to an aged care facility 30 minutes away. I then found myself splitting my time between Mum at the facility and Dad at a major hospital for the following weeks. Meeting people who had to assess my Mother, dealing with my Mother who was angry about not being at home and worrying about Dad became my life.Mum’s dementia meant that she remembered herself caring perfectly well for herself but the reality was she could barely walk to the bathroom and certainly not cook and care for herself. When Dad was well enough to visit her she was angry with him for not taking her home. He felt terrible but had to wait some time before she could return home.

We had to move Mum to another aged care facility because the original one was an emergency respite option. Not understanding all the rules about emergency respite care, Mum went beyond her respite care limit and this cost us about $10,000.

My parents had always been against going to ‘nursing homes’ so Mum returned to live with Dad at his insistence.

When I look back at this time, I realise I was truly fortunate that my employer gave me flexibility of working hours to visit Mum and Dad, to attend appointments with assessors and medical staff. I remember the time as extremely stressful and racing from ‘pillar to post’ to get through each day, still trying to deliver at work when I was there and also when I was not there. I felt guilty about not being at work, about not being able to placate my mother, worrying about my father and wishing my siblings lived closer by. My siblings were also coming from Canberra whenever they could and had the same pressures as me. On reflection I wish I could have taken better care of my mental health and gotten advice on coping with my Mother’s anger. I also wish I could have just stopped for a moment and done some really good research and gotten more information, better understood the respite care rules and avoided the large bill.

It is important to remember every organisation is unique when it comes to developing a policy around family care arrangements. Ensuring you have a supportive policy in place will only benefit your business and your staff. If you need assistance in developing a tailored policy please contact us (02) 8624 3300.