The importance of a healthy professional and personal life balance can’t be denied, but what happens when this division blurs? A nurse’s job can be demanding, so practicing good self-care and incorporating time for rest is essential to remain productive. Yet many nurses may end their workday only to continue this role as a caregiver at home. Working with these employees to develop an accommodating schedule, and encouraging balance, may help to retain them.
The number of caregivers continues to grow, with one in six people spending up to 20 hours, or more, each week caring for a child, family member, or friend. Caregiving needs extend further than caring for someone with a chronic illness. Those employees that are considered the ‘sandwich generation’ may be caring for their children, and their parents, at the same time. Others may be grandparents raising their grandchildren. Regardless of who they’re caring for, there’s a good chance that one, or more, of your nurses end their shift to go home and continue acting as a caregiver.
The Best Caregivers
Caregiving can be an ongoing obligation or commitment, or it may occur for a short time period due to an illness or crisis. Nurses are often the go-to member of the family when this happens. Besides their wealth of knowledge about caregiving, gender or cultural norms may expect them to take the role. They may feel obligated, or guilty, if they don’t comply. Even if they’re happy to provide the care, it can be an emotional or physical strain on top of a demanding job. Instead of using time away from work to care for themselves, or relax and unwind, they continue to provide care. Nurses may struggle to balance these care demands with their job, although you may not be aware of their efforts.
Some of your staff may openly discuss their caregiving situation, while others may keep to themselves about their challenges balancing their work and personal life. These are the employees that might miss work, often come in late, or ask to leave early for appointments and other caregiving needs. They might not share their challenges since they may be concerned about repercussions at work, or fear they might be perceived as less committed to their career and miss out on potential opportunities for advancement.
Caring for the Nurse Caregiver
Perhaps these nurses don’t even see themselves as a caregiver. They’re a nurse. They may think acting as a personal caregiver, family or not, is not an extra responsibility—it’s just what you do. But despite this, these demands can threaten their productivity, and potentially result in them leaving if they feel their job doesn’t support their caregiving needs.
As a nurse leader, it’s helpful to be proactive in addressing and anticipating the needs of your employees who are caregivers, rather than wait until an employee leaves or a staffing crisis. This can be difficult due to the changing needs of those they care for. These needs could lead to compassion fatigue or just fatigue. Caregivers can become stressed, anxious, depressed, and exhausted and neglect caring for themselves. Nurses may provide education about self-care to their patients, but it doesn’t mean they always remember to take care of themselves.
Strategies to Provide Support
The valued characteristics you seek in a good nurse, are the ones these nurses are often displaying by acting as a quality caregiver at home. The time you invest proactively could help you nurture long-term employees. You might assume you know what these staff need, but be sure to have the conversation to determine how to provide a supportive work environment. This may help with recruitment if your culture identifies and supports caregivers more than the competition, and it may help improve retention.
Ways to help your nurse caregivers include:
- Communicate with them and encourage them to talk to you so you can understand their challenges and help them with solutions
- Offer flexibility with scheduling and discuss if they need to change work hours, or if self-scheduling would help
- Provide online tools or resources with solutions for everyday caregiving issues
- Discuss if they need to take a leave or reduce their working hours if issues arise with attendance
- Nurture a caring culture that supports the changing needs of caregivers
- Manage potential reactions or concerns from co-workers who may feel resentful of additional work during their absence, and make plans for backup
- Advise employees of available workplace benefits such as if you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), or if they qualify under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Check in with them occasionally to ask how they’re doing, provide support and try to anticipate their needs
- Encourage them to practice self-care for better health and to avoid burnout
Nurture a Supportive Culture
You want your quality nurses to become long-term employees. Nurses who act as caregivers may deny it, but it can be challenging to prevent personal caregiving challenges from affecting their professional life. Making efforts to accommodate your nurses’ needs as a personal caregiver, can help you nurture a culture that cares about their employees, and help retain them for the long run.