3.1 What is a work–life balance?
The answer to this question varies for everyone but basically it’s the amount of time and focus you give your work versus other aspects of life. This is why at the beginning of this topic we said that a perfect work-life balance doesn’t exist!
Of course, many unpaid carers have to fit in paid work around their caring responsibilities, which makes achieving the perfect work-life balance even more of an impossible dream. Naturally, everyone’s priorities change depending on their circumstances and so the balance changes as well.
Read and reflect on the case study below before answering the questions that follow.
Case study: Edward’s dilemma
Edward is a marketing manager for a children’s charity. He is not married and lives with his partner, Mark, who works as a self-employed IT consultant. Mark has been experiencing memory loss and mood swings for some time, which the couple thought was caused by stress, but he recently received the news that he had developed early onset dementia and that his condition would deteriorate rapidly. The couple know this will have a huge impact on the way they live their lives and want to be prepared for how they will manage, particularly the end-of-life care that Mark will need.
Edward loves his job and receives a lot of satisfaction from it. But he also wants to be able to care for Mark as his condition worsens and he needs regular care and support. They know things will be difficult for both of them but want to make the most of the time that remains to them in a positive way.
What steps can Edward and Mark take to adapt to the changes in their work-life balance and make sure they are still leading positive and fulfilling lives?
Write a sentence each about:
- What support do you think Edward might need from his employer?
- What practical support might Edward and Mark be able to obtain?
- What can Edward do to retain his feelings of self-worth and value if he becomes a full-time carer?
- What can Edward and Mark do to make the end of Edward’s caring role and his return to work as positive as possible?
1. Taking time out from work and flexible working
Becoming a carer no longer means an ‘either or’ decision between working and caring. In many situations it is possible to do both if you want to.
These are some of Edward’s options for time off from work, or changing how he works to enable him to continue working as well as caring:
- emergency time off for a dependant
- flexible working
- compassionate leave
- unpaid leave
- career break/extended unpaid leave.
2. Practical help with caring
Practical help is essential for Edward to be able to look after his own well-being and to find the energy to continue caring. Practical help includes having a carer’s assessment, which will look at Edward’s role as a carer and what he needs to be effective, including how caring impacts his work. This is obtainable from local social services departments.
Mark may be eligible for community care if he needs help with day-to-day living such as mobility, cooking, washing or getting dressed.
Family and friends will want to help Edward and Mark but may not know what to do. They should ask for help with specific practical things, such as shopping or cooking, and this will help people know what support to offer.
Mark and Edward could contact organisations such as the local carers’ centre, or Carers UK. They could contact dementia charities or their local church, mosque or synagogue if they have a religious faith.
3. Edward’s well-being
Edward will need to take care of his own well-being if he is to become Mark’s full-time carer eventually. Taking regular breaks will help him to keep his emotional balance and remain strong. Of course, being a full-time carer doesn’t always mean you cannot work, and once his caring duties settle down Edward may decide to think about how he can balance his career with his caring role. Edward’s career is important to him and gives him a sense of connectedness, intellectual satisfaction and a feeling of being able to influence and being valued. Understanding these needs will help him design a positive work-life fit for himself and Mark.
4. Life and end-of-life planning
Edward’s caring role will eventually end, as Mark’s condition will either worsen to the extent where he can no longer be cared for at home or his life will end. While Mark still has capacity he will be able to make plans and decisions about his wishes for the future and his future care. He and Edward will need to be flexible enough to make the most of the good times, especially as they get less frequent. When this stage is reached, Edward will need to cope with this drastic change, and manage his return to work. Depending on the circumstances, Edward will be able to phase his return to work over a period of time that again takes into account his needs and enables him to re-establish his work-life balance.