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Can Caregiving Help Your Career? Yes! Leverage These 5 Skills To Get Ahead

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If you’re like most people, you’ve spent a lot more of your time giving care over the last couple years—to children, to elder relatives, to friends or neighbors. For some, caregiving has meant stepping back from career growth—but it doesn’t have to.

In addition to the challenges of caregiving, it also results in the development of key skills which are highly transferable to your job. But recognizing the skills and articulating them for employers is critical to getting ahead.

Mixing Caregiving and Career

The number of people providing care has risen significantly over the last couple years, and a study by Case Western Reserve University reports that according to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), there are about 66 million family caregivers in the US and about half of these work outside the home. In addition, more than half of caregivers are women. The “caregiving economy”—the value of the work performed by unpaid caregivers—is valued at $450 million annually, according to the NAC and the AARP.

Caregiving is time consuming and according to a study by Fidelity, a person caring for children spends an average of 61 hours per week, and a person caring for adults spends about 28 hours per week, on average. In addition, women report spending about twice as much time as men providing care.

Because of the hours caregiving consumes, it puts a predictable strain on work.

  • 33% of people say caregiving has caused setbacks in work or career goals, according to the Fidelity study.
  • Parents of children under 18 report they struggle to get ahead at work because of the time they spend facilitating learning for their children, according to an American Staffing Association report.
  • Women providing care pass up job advancement opportunities and lose employment benefits because of working fewer hours, according to the Case Western Reserve University study.
  • Caregivers experience emotional, physical and financial stresses, according to the Canadian Journal of Cardiology—all of which get in the way of putting your best foot forward at work.
  • Caregivers have had to leave their jobs (64%), reduce their hours (62%) or take leaves of absence (14%) because of the time necessary to care for children and adults, according to the Fidelity study.
  • In addition, 44% of working caregivers report feeling distracted while working, being less productive, needing to take time off, or being passed over for a raise or promotion. This is according to another Fidelity study released in October.

The Power of Caregiving

But while there can be negative impacts of caregiving, it can also have positive outcomes. A new study by (In)Credible finds there are some important skills which are built through caregiving, and 2/3 of people report their capabilities were boosted in the process of providing all kinds of care.

Here are the capabilities that you develop and the way you can leverage them to fuel your career.

Leadership. Leadership is fundamental for caregiving, whether you’re leading children in learning or navigating the complexities of healthcare for an elder relative. The (In)Credible study found 20% of respondents developed their leadership skills and 30% built their skills in motivating others. Employers value leadership skills, no matter what your role. And the abilities to direct, guide and engage people in mutual goals are powerful selling points for your next role or your next career step.

Empathy. Empathy is a significant capability we tend to develop through caregiving. The (In)Credible study finds 71% of people enhanced their empathy. Empathy is powerful for success at work: Research finds when leaders express empathy, businesses benefit in terms of increased innovation, engagement, retention, inclusivity, mental health and cooperation. You can make the case for your empathetic strengths contributing to the business and its positive outcomes.

Stress Tolerance. According to the (In)Credible study, 63% of people report an increase in their tolerance for stress, and this is significantly positive for your contributions at work as well. Job stress has increased over the last couple years and according to a study by ResumeLab, 67% of employees are experiencing burnout. But people with an ability to deal with stress effectively are at an advantage in their ability to cope, adapt, perform and thrive.

Communication. The (In)Credible study also reports people develop their capabilities in advocacy (47%), conflict management (42%) and overall communication skills (63%). It’s easy to make the case about how important effective communication is for success in business. When you can articulate your point of view, deal with differences of opinions, ask questions, listen and express ideas effectively, these contribute to success in your career.

Time Management. In addition, according to the (In)Credible study, 54% of people say they increased their ability to manage time. As work has shifted, the abilities to manage multiple priorities, navigate scheduling challenges and deliver results are in-demand skills.

Making the Case

So you have built great skills which you know are relevant to business. You can convince your employer about your capabilities by making a strong business case. Do this in the following ways:

  • Be open about the time you’ve invested in caregiving. If you’ve taken a step back or reduced your hours for caregiving, be transparent about how you’ve spent your time. Be confident about the choices you’ve made and self-assured about your priorities.
  • Reflect your understanding of the needs of the business. All of the skills are applicable in most jobs, but you can also emphasize key linkages. For example, if you’re applying for a project management job, highlight your time management skills or if you’re pursuing a role in customer service or design, reinforce your capacity for empathy. If you’re seeking a promotion, you can emphasize your leadership and communication skills.
  • Provide examples and prove results. Go beyond talking generally about your skills and demonstrate your capabilities through storytelling. Talk about how you created a learning pod for your child and others during quarantine, resulting in improved academic outcomes for the children involved. Or describe the ambiguity in the healthcare process when your mom needed care, and how you successfully advocated for clarity, resulting in a more effective and coordinated plan for her return to health.
  • Be clear about your commitment. Emphasize your desire for the role and how you’ll navigate the demands on your time. Reinforce the extent of your commitment to deliver results and contribute to the success of the team and the organization.

In Sum

Rather than creating barriers to career progress, caregiving can give your work a boost. Overall, your mindset matters. Be confident about your choices and the contributions you’ve made to family and community. Embrace the ways you’ve grown personally, and the ways you can bring your areas of growth to a new job, an expanded role or a great promotion.