She runs herself ragged caring for her house and kids, spends her lunch hours running errands for her aging parents, and on the rare occasion that she takes some time for herself, she may run by the salon for a quick mani/pedi! If this is how you picture a family caregiver, you're not alone. But your picture's not completely accurate either. According to a 2012 analysis by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, 45 percent of family caregivers in the U.S. are now MEN.
Many male caregivers choose to be stay-at-home dads; some others have lost their jobs and become caregivers by default. But increasingly men are being thrust into (or welcoming) the role of caregiver -- for their children and/or aging parents -- while working full-time jobs. And those male caregivers may unfortunately face a tougher time than women from employers who are used to caregivers being, well, women!
Male caregivers are more likely to be victims of "caregiver stigma" as caregiving is associated with feminine traits which, as we know, are not always valued in the workplace. Sadly a man who requests time off to take his elderly mother to a doctor's appointment might just as well be announcing plans to attend a retreat "to get in touch with his feminine side." That's the bad news.
The good news is that many men are STEPPING UP to do something about caregiver discrimination. According to the Center for WorkLife Law roughly 12 percent of lawsuits alleging family responsibilities discrimination in the workplace are filed by men; between 2006 and 2010, the number of cases brought by male plaintiffs was three times higher than the number filed by men during the previous five-year period.
More good news is that as more men become caregivers, and are subsequently more vocal about the need for caregiver benefits and flexibility, caregiving will no longer be considered a woman's issue -- which we we all know it isn't. As the population ages and retirement age increases, greater numbers of working Americans -- many of them men -- will be caring for aging family members. Having policies and benefits in place will help both male and female employees as well as employers wishing to retain their most experienced and valuable human resources.
In the meantime, there are things both men and women can do to promote a culture of caregiving in the workplace:
• Find out what's available. Ask if your employer offers any type of eldercare employee assistance plan. If so, find out what's available and how to use it. Many employers claim that they offer eldercare services but, according to them, their employees often don't take advantage of these benefits.
• Form a coalition. If you work at a fair size company in all likelihood you're not the only man with caregiving responsibilities. Form a coalition with like-minded coworkers (women, too!) and make a case for your employer to add benefits. (Keep in mind that benefits such as flextime, flexible spending accounts, job sharing and even casual dress days are valuable to all employees, not just caregivers.)
• Meet informally. Even if your employer doesn't provide, or agree to provide eldercare benefits, there are things you can do in the workplace informally. I've talked to many men and women who have formed networks with fellow caregivers to share information, meet for lunchtime support groups or cover for each other when one has to be off for caregiving duties.
Another option, of course, is to job hunt. If you're looking to make a job move, make sure you comprehensively review your potential employers' eldercare benefits package first.