Most mid-size and large organizations have services to offer employees navigating physical illnesses, mental health conditions and even substance abuse problems. But many studies indicate that an employee caring for an older or disabled loved one may be at an increased risk for all of these conditions.

When employees understand the signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout and how to help a colleague struggling, this benefits the working caregiver and the organization.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, up to $34 billion per year is lost by American employers because of caregiver burnout. Both managers and colleagues can minimize this by encouraging working caregivers to utilize programs like FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and EAP (Employee Assistance Programs).

If you observe one or more of the following signs in a working caregiver, there is likely risk for caregiver burnout as well as financial repercussions to your organization:

1. Running late. Sandy is a high school vice principal taking care of her husband who recently had a stroke. She was always very punctual and now shows up late on a regular basis, even when there is an important meeting with the parents of a student.

2. Moodiness. Steve, a retail manager, has always had a great sense of humor. His employees have always respected his firm but light-hearted management style. Since he had to move his brother with Down’s Syndrome into his home, Steve has been short-tempered at work and staff are nervous around him. Gone are the days of having fun while working. Steve is now all business and always frowning.

While Steve is short-tempered, other employees struggling with caregiver burnout may be experiencing sadness. For example, the usually upbeat Tina, a physician’s assistant, has been caught in the employee lounge tearing up when she’s been on her cell phone. Colleagues suspect it’s because she’s dealing with her mother-in-law who has dementia.

3. Change in appearance. Claire, an office manager, was always envied for her perfectly coifed hairstyles, well-manicured nails and desirable figure. Since Claire started taking care of her grandfather who has cancer, she has lost a lot of weight and doesn’t seem to pay the same attention to the way she dresses or grooms.

4. Making more mistakes than usual. Ray, a very bright bank teller has been making more mistakes at work since his father-in-law came to live with him. He has forgotten the names of several regular customers and made simple math errors causing his manager to become concerned.

5. Trying to do it all themselves. Colleagues at risk for caregiver burnout often are doing it alone. Jessica, a sales representative, has been spending every night sleeping on her mother’s couch since she her mom has recently had major surgery. Despite other siblings in the area, colleagues notice that Jessica is the only family member involved in care.

6. Getting sick more often. Those suffering with caregiver burnout often miss work to take loved ones to doctor’s appointments. While those struggling with caregiver burnout are susceptible to more illnesses, they will often come to work anyway because they are saving sick and vacation days for when they need to handle issues with their older or disabled loved one. This leads us to…

7. They do very little but work and provide care. Colleagues who never actually use vacation days to relax or take time to do something fun are at particular risk for caregiver burnout.

8. They talk about quitting or going part-time. Working caregivers experiencing caregiver burnout typically consider quitting or reducing hours for a while before they actually do it. Colleagues taking care of older or disabled loved ones who broach this topic with a peer or manager are typically very serious. Many working caregivers don’t see the point in continuing working, particularly if they are close to retirement age or are not breadwinners.

Gerontologist Jennifer L. Fitzpatrick, MSW, CSP helps organizations improve profits and productivity by supporting working caregivers. She is also a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University. You can find her at or on twitter @fitzpatrickjen.

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