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Should you tell future employers about your caring responsibilities?

Unpredictable caregiving responsibilities can be challenging enough when you’re in a job you know and love, but what about when you’re ready to make a difference? Deciding whether to disclose caregiving responsibilities during a job search is ultimately a judgment call with risks on both sides. When making a decision, consider your current needs first. Which of your responsibilities are fixed, flexible or unknown? Is the condition of the person in your care permanent, progressive or intermittent? Once you know your needs, you can compare them to job descriptions that interest you. Once you’ve found a potential match, educate yourself about company culture. You want to understand both formal benefits and intangible assets, such as the importance of interview time or how well the company supports family needs. Lastly, you want to be clear about your manager’s expectations, as your direct supervisor will have the greatest impact on your core work experience.

Picking up the phone, I saw a text message from a dear friend. “Mom is in bad shape,” my friend wrote. “She can’t live on her own anymore. I’m preparing the downstairs bedroom for her to move in. But I’m having a job interview – what the hell am I going to tell them, if anything? So many unknowns. I’m panicking.” My friend is not alone. According to research by Harvard Business School’s Joseph B. Fuller and Manjari Raman, nearly three-quarters of employees have some sort of caregiving responsibility, and most fear it could jeopardize their career prospects. In an ideal career transition, we start out in new roles designed to adapt quickly and achieve results. We want to build trust and a solid professional reputation. Caregiving responsibilities are unpredictable. You may not know what or when you will be asked to do it for a loved one, making it difficult to predict the potential impact on your work. It’s hard enough when you’re happy with your job, but even harder when you want to make a change. So, should you disclose caregiving responsibilities to your future employer? If so, when? There is no right or wrong answer. You need to make the decision that is best for you based on your specific situation. Based on my experience as an HR executive, hiring manager, and working mom, my advice is to start by gathering some information:

1. Define your current needs.

List your nursing responsibilities and whether each is fixed, flexible, or unknown. For example, you may be required to attend a fixed weekly medical appointment every Monday at 3pm, but you may have more flexibility in scheduling other appointments around mandatory work demands. You also need to consider the situation at hand – is the health of the person you are caring for permanent, progressive or intermittent? What are the forecasts and timelines? Important point to consider if you think you may need to take time off at some point to perform your caregiving duties: Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you need to have worked for your employer for at least 12 months before you have Eligible to participate in the program. Once you have written down your needs, you can compare your responsibilities to the core requirements of the job you are interested in to assess a good employment match. For example, a fixed-hour customer-facing retail job or a position that requires frequent travel may not suit your needs.

2. Educate yourself about company culture.

You can learn a lot about culture from how a company describes itself, its values, and its benefits package. Request and review these documents carefully. Find out if the company offers workplace aged care or childcare support such as referral programs, discounted home back-up care, paid time off and/or employee support groups. You can also use your network to talk to people who have been with the company for a while. They can tell you how much face-to-face time is valued, how supportive the company is with family and work/life issues, and what to expect from the office. Any intelligence you can gather on these issues will be very helpful in determining your approach. In some cultures, visibility and face time are key, and if you’re not in the right place at the right time, you can develop resentment or suffer from proximity bias. These are important factors to discover and consider in your searches.

3. Know your manager’s expectations .

While company culture is important, your immediate supervisor will ultimately determine your core work experience, including compensation and opportunities for advancement. Asking these questions during an interview can help you decide.

  • What are my core job requirements?
  • How do you measure success? (You’ll want to hear outcome-based measures, not vague or subjective ones.) Is it a remote role, a hybrid role, or a live role? Will there be any changes to this plan in the future? Are the working hours fixed or flexible? Do some members of the team work flexibly? (If so, ask for specifics.) Is there a specific time for an employee or company meeting? If I miss a meeting, will they be recorded, or is there a way to catch up? How many of my roles are autonomous rather than dependent on working with cross-functional teams and peers?

By which method (e.g. messaging, email, meetings) and when would you like to update my working status? Deciding whether to disclose caregiving responsibilities during a job search is ultimately a judgment call. There are risks on both sides. Some caregivers may worry that if they disclose, their manager will see them as less diligent or incompetent. On the other hand, if you decide not to disclose, you may find yourself overwhelmed and worried about your credibility if you have to regularly decline meeting invitations after accepting a job. If your new boss seems approachable, encourages job autonomy, and is results-based in terms of their performance expectations, then you’re likely to be well-disclosed and candidly discuss how your schedule is shaped. I recommend that you disclose when you receive an offer. If you choose this route, California-based employment consultant and consultant Erica Frank recommends being as specific as possible in your conversation. Come up with what-if scenarios, such as “What would happen if you called me at 11 am and I was in the doctor’s office. How would that look?” she advises. You can also share a plan for how you balance work and caregiving responsibilities. No one should decide between care and work – but it has to be for everyone. Truth requires trust, and trust requires truth. When life comes, can you trust your employer to trust you to do your job? Nursing needs are often not static – they increase and decrease throughout our lives. Employers can reap many benefits by taking a long-term view, being flexible about cyclical life demands, and earning employee loyalty over the long term.



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