Here’s Why Taking Time Off Work to Care for a Loved One is So Stressful

Family sick leave
Dean Mitchell/Getty Images

Let’s take a quick quiz. Which of these two options would stress you out more?

  • A. Taking time off work when you’re sick
  • B. Taking time off work to care for a sick family member

If you answered B, you’re not alone.

A recent survey of U.S. workers revealed that 62% of people who took leave to care for an ill family member went back to work earlier than they wanted to because they were afraid of losing their jobs.

Those who took family leave also worried more about how their absence affected the workload of their colleagues than parents who took time off for maternity or paternity leave did.

How Common is Paid Family Sick Leave?

“About half of adults have taken leave to care for a sick family member or are likely to in the future,” according to the Pew Research Center.

Since so many workers share the same concerns about family sick leave, it’s no surprise that about two-thirds of the survey’s respondents say workers should get paid time off to take care of ill family members.

While 60% of the workers who took family sick leave received at least partial pay while they were off work, 80% said at least part of that pay came out of their allocated vacation, sick leave or personal time off.

What Do All These Numbers Mean?

Statistics are great, but all these numbers are starting to give me a headache, so let’s look at what they mean.

  • Having a seriously ill family member is stressful.
  • Being a caregiver for a sick family member, even more so.
  • To pile on the concern over missing work, asking co-workers to cover your workload and maybe losing your job is a recipe for stress overload.
  • Employees want paid family sick leave benefits.
  • Some companies allow family sick leave and may even pay workers when they take it. It’s not uncommon, though, to reduce the employee’s wages or time-off allocations when they do.

What a mess.

Create a Family Sick Leave Plan Before You Need It

Since we can’t control if or when our family members may need a caregiver (hopefully never!), the best we can do is plan ahead.

The most obvious solution is to get a job with a company that builds paid family leave time into its benefits package.

Since that’s easier said than done, consider asking the human resources department where you work to add a family sick leave policy for its employees.

Arm yourself with data from organizations like the U.S. Department of Labor, the National Alliance for Caregiving and the National Partnership for Women and Families to offer suggestions on how paid family sick leave can benefit both workers and employers.

If you’re not comfortable with such a bold approach, instead put together a sick leave plan of action with your family so you focus on caregiving instead of how to keep the lights on.

  • Start by building an emergency fund if you don’t already have one in place.

If you’re in a financial crisis right now because you’ve taken time off work to care for an ill relative, here are 10 legal ways to raise some cash in a hurry.

Your turn: Have you ever taken family sick leave?

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s always looking for fresh ways to help readers work their way through major life events without going broke. Look her up on Twitter @lisah to share your favorite tips.