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Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan. I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It is my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Leslie Meyer-Miller.
Leslie, with a background in social work, has a passion for health and wellness. Since 1992, she has spent her professional career helping people discover how to live with change that life invariably brings. Leslie’s educational credentials and certifications include a master’s in social and science administration from Case Western Reserve, and certified professional coactive coach from Coactive Training Institute, one of the world’s leading coaching programs.
Today, Leslie’s mission is to help people achieve optimal health. Leslie’s own life journey of overcoming serious health challenges facilitated her wanting more out of life while honoring her values and herself. Through Leslie’s own life experiences and professional training, she has developed systems of health and wellness, empowering people to take charge and take care of themselves.
Leslie, I’m delighted to have you here today.
Leslie Meyer-Miller: Mari, I am so delighted to be here with you. Thank you for inviting me.
Mari Ryan: My pleasure. Our topic today is around caregiving. Nearly 43 million Americans currently tend to a family member or a friend in need. For context for that number, that represents about 21% of the U.S. population. So, if we think of this in the context of the workplace, perhaps as many as 1 in 5 employees in the workplace has caregiving responsibilities. For many of these individuals, their caregiving responsibilities are in addition to their paid work and/or their responsibilities as a parent or a family member.
Caregiving duties can be stressful and exhausting. Today we’re going to explore this topic of caregiving and the link to wellbeing, in particular with employees. But Leslie, before we dig into this, I’m really curious; how and why did you decide to devote your work to coaching of caregivers?
Leslie Meyer-Miller: Mari, thank you so much for asking that question. As you read in my bio, I have had a lot of various physical and emotional challenges throughout my life. Not only did I need caregiving, that extra caregiving when I was younger, I chose the profession of social work initially because I wanted to be able to help others.
In 2001, I fell to … I had medical leave where I was working and I won’t go into the details, that’s not really important, but it completely changed my life, just completely. I had an overhaul, it was very difficult at first to recover and to figure out everything, but then I realized it was a blessing. It allowed me to be an even better social worker and it led me to my own journey of wellness, got me into wellness coaching.
That’s how I have chosen this. The other thing is in my social work background I have always worked with older adults and family and professional caregivers. That’s pretty much how I came to where I am today, with helping caregivers.
Mari Ryan: Thank you for sharing that sharing that element of your personal journey, which, no doubt, had to have been difficult, but it’s so interesting how that can inspire us to be able to be in a place from personal experience to help others.
Leslie Meyer-Miller: Right, exactly.
Mari Ryan: Let’s explore this idea of the caregiver, if we can. For many caregivers, it’s really what we might call part-time work, in addition to other responsibilities, either as a paid job or as a member of a family. That certainly has got to be very stressful for people. How does it impact individuals when they have to show up at a real job, a day job, when they are a caregiver?
Leslie Meyer-Miller: A lot of times they show up as “presenteeism” – you may know that word from the work you do, but I’ll explain it for those who are in our audience. We all know what absenteeism is. A person is not there and they miss work physically, but presenteeism is when you are present at your position, at your work, but your mind is elsewhere. You are so worried about what is going on at home with the person you are caregiving for that your productivity can decline. So, basically that can effect a person at work.
Mari Ryan: So they must be carrying a stress into the job as well, I would think.
Leslie Meyer-Miller: Very much so. Because they are working, a lot of times when you are caregiving, you never know when the ball is going to drop. There’s an emergency when you’re not expecting it, somebody needs extra help, or your paid caregiver is sick. The stress is enormous and unfortunately the caregiver doesn’t pay attention to themselves. They let themselves go because they feel they don’t have time. I don’t have time to take a break, I don’t have time to get a massage, I don’t have time to have a cup of tea and read a book. Their own self-care greatly diminishes. A lot of times they do not even recognize it. Even when somebody brings it to their attention, they say oh, I’m fine.
It’s not uncommon that … a lot of statistics show that a lot of people who are caregivers, it’s not uncommon that they have a few less years of their life than people who have never been a caregiver. Also, it causes individuals to develop chronic illness.
Mari Ryan: Wow, that’s a huge impact. In your opinion, how important is it for someone who has caregiving responsibilities to let their employer know about those responsibilities and have an open conversation about what that means for them and how they are going to be showing up at work?
Leslie Meyer-Miller: It’s huge. What I will first start with saying is that a lot of caregivers are scared out of their wits to tell their managers, their supervisors, going to HR because they are scared that they will lose their job. A lot of times they don’t say anything. When you keep things in, that increases your stress. It’s just kind of a vicious cycle. I do know that more and more – and I know we’re going to talk about this a little bit later on – more and more workplaces are recognizing the need of their employees to have assistance and help with caregiving.
Mari Ryan: That brings up a good point. Where can caregivers get support?
Leslie Meyer-Miller: Caregivers can get support from -- I’m going to actually … I have a couple of references here. Caregivers can get support from eldercare locator, which is eldercare.org. That is a fantastic resource and it will take you wherever you need in the country to receive resources for services. Another one that is becoming more and more my favorite is caregiver.org. That is a phenomenal resource. And that specific organization you can plug in the states that you are in and they will give you all the numbers of different resources, from support groups to meeting respite care, etc.
I could go on for a whole hour with resources, but those are just two of the many, many resources.
Mari Ryan: That’s great, that’s good. Of course, in larger employers they have EAP programs where employees can take advantage of some of those resources, which can also give them direction on where to find some resources. That’s really helpful.
If someone is in a managerial role, what should a manager do if they find out one of their employees has caregiving responsibility? How can they support them?
Leslie Meyer-Miller: Number one, be very compassionate, as much as you can. It is so stressful to be a caregiver -- and I probably should mention that I am a long-distance caregiver for my own family. I do have that personal side other than the professional side. It’s very, very stressful so it’s important that the manager takes some time to have a conversation, take some time to offer, it would be great if they could offer flex time. So if someone’s mother or father has a morning doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, then they could come in and work from 12 to 7 o’clock, or 12 to 8 o’clock. Flex time is really good.
The other thing is, which I think companies are moving toward, is when you have sick days and holidays and paid vacation, if companies were to lump them all in one category, then they can take a half day off and not have to worry about making up that time, which will then reduce their stress.
Offer support groups. Whether it’s online or in the company, provide a list of resources with phone numbers. And a lot of people don’t realize that when you are a caregiver, you are so exhausted, so overwhelmed that you don’t even have time to look up a phone number. I know that sounds ridiculous, but you don’t. If companies, their EAPs, HR, have a listing of all the different organizations with a website and phone number, just give it to them and that would be great.
Also, tell the employee that you are honored they are sharing this information because that is going to release some stress. It will make them comfortable about going to them.
Mari Ryan: Those sounds like great suggestions of ways that the managers and employers can support the individual. It occurs to me as we are talking about this, and I have personally been through caregiving situations with family members as well and know how stressful it was, in the midst of all that it’s hard to convince somebody. The stress of caregiving and all the other life responsibilities to stop and take care of themselves. How do you do that when they are feeling so overwhelmed by the fact that they’ve got all of these different area of responsibilities? How do you get people to stop?
Leslie Meyer-Miller: A lot of times you don’t, Mari. I’ve witnessed so many times people not being able to stop, or they say, I’m fine, I don’t need that. However, if you can get them to stop here are some things to encourage. You can provide maybe, a gift certificate, or for them to go get a massage, and provide respite for their family member that they are caregiving for because that certificate will expire if they don’t have someone to take care of them. A lot of times people, just the caregiver, here’s all their support system saying let me know what you need. They are not going to let you know what they need. Instead, bring over a meal, or have a rotating schedule of people in the community, like on Mondays, somebody does a meal. And not every day of the week, but even just a couple days of the week could really be helpful.
Allow the person – you’re going to laugh at this and it is funny -- one of the things that I teach my caregivers is how to breathe. I help them do it in one minute and I proved to them that they do feel different and I tell them to go into the bathroom close the door because no one is going to bother them in the bathroom. What I’d love for them to do is to do that deep breathing and relaxation while they are taking a hot shower. Or even sitting on the toilet; I know that may sound funny but that breath … I did a six-minute meditation before we got on today just to calm my breath down.
One minute can do wonders. I could go on and on, but I’m not.
Mari Ryan: That’s okay. That’s a great suggestion. I think this is one of the big challenges with caregivers is they just saying they are okay and they just keep carrying on, and that’s where part of the problem becomes they are not asking for help. Then they just burn themselves out and then they are not of use to anybody.
Leslie Meyer-Miller: Right, and actually I meant to share with you a lot of times people don’t ask for help because they feel guilty asking for help. They become depressed so they can’t ask for help. They are overwhelmed so they don’t even know how to begin to ask for help. What I tell a lot of my caregivers when I do presentations is that the only person who likes change is … you know what I’m going to say, don’t you? … are babies, their diapers changed. So, it is hard for caregivers to change it’s very, very difficult for them to change. They feel that they are being selfish. This is huge. I work so much on this with my clients. They feel selfish if they do something to take care of themselves. If they go out to dinner with a friend, or go to a movie, or even go to a support group, they feel guilty.
The more they try to integrate little bits and pieces of self-care, they are going to be at their best, or better, and they will be more productive, not only at work, which we’ve been discussing a lot, but they will also be a better caregiver.
Mari Ryan: That’s great. It sounds like the work you are doing with the individuals that are fortunate enough to work with you is very important and giving them the support that they need. If our audience wants to learn more about you and the work that you are doing, where can they find you?
Leslie Meyer-Miller: They can find me on my website, passageinsights.com, or they can also email me, which is on the website. I offer an e-newsletter and sometimes just having that will help somebody. I do quick newsletters because they don’t have time to read …
Mari Ryan: Right, right.
Mari Ryan: Those sound like great resources. Thank you for sharing that, and thank you so much for being here today. I really appreciate your time..
Leslie Meyer-Miller: Thank you so much. I really appreciate being on the show, on the program. Thank you.
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