Five Signs of Caregiver Stress (And What You Can Do To Help)

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By Stephanie Chan

It has been estimated that almost 50 per cent of seniors still living at home receive care only from family and friends. For caregivers, this can result in decreased self-care and increased levels of stress and anxiety.

According to Statistics Canada, around eight million Canadians are caregivers, six million of which are in the work force.  A large portion of those caregivers are helping their aging parents, and the number of seniors that require care will only increase in the coming years.

Recognizing employee stress and burnout is important in maintaining a healthy workforce. Employees may not realize the effect of stress on their performance or their impact on the people around them.

  1. Fatigue and Tiredness at Work: If your employee is overwhelmed from providing care, there is a good chance they are not getting enough sleep either. Depending on the level of care required by the parent, there can be lots to do, including doctor appointments, monitoring medications, and assistance with everyday tasks—all of which can eat away into a good night’s rest which is essential to good work performance. If your employee is showing signs of fatigue, chances are there may be external stresses causing sleeplessness.
  1. Drop in Work Performance and Lack of Concentration: A drop in work performance can result from an employee who is stretched too thin between competing duties. Your employee’s lack of attention may be due to the distractions that inevitably come with providing care. Consequently, they are less productive at work.
  1. More Volatility in Personality: Mood changes may appear more frequently in an employee who is stressed from caregiving. Managing emotions for an employee who feels overwhelmed can be difficult when dealing with feelings of worry, fear, and anxiety and sadness. If left unmanaged, these feelings can turn into greater anxiety or depression. Recognizing the signs early can help nip any issues in the bud before they get out of hand.
  1. Health Related Issues: Stress can put a significant amount of pressure on our bodies, making them more susceptible to health issues. Perhaps your employee is catching more colds than they normally would, or perhaps they are experiencing headaches from stress. Weight gain or loss is another common stress-related change that may be observed.

    Over long periods of time, stress can negatively impact long term health, putting caregivers at higher risk for hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic disease. It is important to manage the effects of stress to avoid negatively impacting your employee’s health in the long term.

  1. Absenteeism and Increased Use of Holiday and Sick Time: With increased stress comes increased sick time. Stressed employees tend to be less healthy and may get sick more often. Additionally, if they have caregiving responsibilities, they may be using time off to get additional caregiving tasks completed. Recognizing this trend may help you spot the stressed employee.

How to Help a Stressed Employee

Reach Out: Have a conversation with your employee and let them know you are willing to help them. Ask about how you can help. Perhaps there are accommodations that can be made to assist them in their caregiving duties, including more flex-time.

Be a Resource to Your Employees: Your employees shouldn’t have to struggle alone to get information. Having resources at hand for your employees can save them a lot of time and effort, thereby reducing distractions during the work day. These can include providing referrals to common services that are typically needed when caring for an aging parent and providing information about community resources, health and aging in general. Also, provide information about any benefits that are available from your organization’s EAP provider. Often, employees are not aware of what is available to them.

Creating a Culture of Openness – Eldercare can be difficult to talk about for many reasons. Unlike childcare, eldercare is not talked about nearly as much. Employees may not want to ask for assistance, and may keep to themselves about their stresses. Having an open-door policy to enable employees to seek assistance when they need it can greatly improve their quality of life—and work—while keeping you informed as an employer.

Stephanie Chan is an eldercare advisor and transition planner, helping seniors and families make informed choices regarding senior living. Stephanie founded and operates Home to Home, a care planning and transition assistance business which helps seniors plan and manage lifestyle changes such as a downsize or change in health.

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