While employers and recruiters may initially hesitate to hire a return-to-work caregiver, they may want to reconsider. Candidates who have been out of the workforce raising children, providing holistic care for a disabled or chronically ill family member or occupied in other ways as a caregiver, accrue a plethora of skills and character-building traits that serve businesses well.
“I truly believe spending so much time at home with kids and navigating treatment of a child with a life-threatening illness teaches perspective,” said Susan Hensel, who returned to the corporate world after 15 years raising two children, one with cystic fibrosis, a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time.
Hensel was recruited into her first return-to-the-workplace role as clinic coordinator for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
1. Stress management and flexibility
“My ability to handle stressful situations and to face daunting barriers was a big plus,” she explained.
While the position was structured with defined expectations, it also was a catch-all for ever-evolving needs, tapping into Hensel’s abilities in communications. These included skills in answering voluminous questions, multitasking and extemporaneously thinking through solutions.
“I get along with people and don’t mind helping with what some might consider outside of the actual realm of the position,” said Hensel.
2. Navigating uncertainty
Ingenuity and resourcefulness are qualities hiring managers value as they need employees willing to parachute into ambiguity without a compass and then be able to navigate to a solution.
Hensel’s experience as a caregiver thrust her into such ambiguity, including potentially devastating situations, which she explained, “forces you to be open to learning and to changing and adapting. It also teaches you to seek help and to have the ability to organize, delegate and trust others.”
Another trait Hensel regularly tapped into from her care giving days was self-motivation. This characteristic, commonly requested in job descriptions, was pivotal as she advanced from her role at the CF Foundation into progressively accountable administrative support and patient service/advocacy positions for both a psychiatric hospital and a cancer treatment center. Her ability to keep the day moving without direction was a “big plus,” she explains, and it was an ability founded on years of self-motivating to clear a path forward through uncertain terrain.
Moreover, in today’s hyper-competitive business climate, with digital disrupting companies at every turn, hiring candidates with the character muscle to move nimbly amid unplanned change is crucial.
As a caregiver, Hensel’s agility was buoyed through repeatedly “showing up on time for appointments and having my ‘planned day’ abruptly turned inside out because of sudden acute symptoms or hospitalizations.”
She also consistently respected other peoples’ schedules and honed patience when waiting hours to see providers.
Caregivers also offer empathetic skills which are highly touted among leadership experts and recruiters.
According to Brett Farmiloe in the article, “The New Leadership Skill You Need to Develop? Empathy,” “From a basic business perspective, empathy is extremely helpful.” He continues, “Empathy breeds cohesiveness and trust. Looking around and knowing ‘everyone around me tries to understand how I’m feeling and what matters to me’ is a great helper in building a cohesive team environment.”
Hensel, who deepened her empathetic characteristics through years of care giving, articulates the value as an “ability to deal with people who are not in the best frame of mind, and with egos or brusque personalities.”
Moreover, clear, concise communication and patience were sharpened via extensive experience navigating the insurance and health system including organizing a multidisciplinary health team. Hensel also took the reins of processes and creating improvements.
All of these characteristics, leadership, organizational and communication attributes, along with a sense of humor, prove invaluable in a business setting, according to Hensel.
They wove themselves well into her role as unit communicator on an adult psychiatric hospital inpatient floor, where most days the unit was at capacity with 16 patients awaiting admission.
7. Big-picture viewpoint
Hensel’s harmonious, quick thinking temperament and ability to navigate the fast-paced quagmire in the high-stress admissions department all were transferable traits strengthened during her years as a caregiver. As such, she was tapped by the chief of staff, charge nurse and admissions director to perform as the negotiator between nursing staff, social workers, techs, cleaning staff and admissions department.
“Somehow I was able to see the big picture and to coordinate the discharge process and keep a calm steady flow of action that moved things along. I was also able to suggest ways to improve the process,” explained Hensel.
8. Emotional intelligence
Moreover, an ability to deflect negativity and raw emotion in the workplace is a prized trait for many hiring employers, particularly in today’s disruptive, innovative business environment, where competitive personalities flare and customer expectations are rising.
“I got along well with the nurses, techs, cleaning staff, social workers and admissions counselors and staff. If people got ruffled and ‘said things,’ it didn’t bother me, and I didn’t take things personally,” added Hensel.
9. Sense of humor
Hensel further emphasized the value of having a sense of humor both for raising children and for navigating stressful workplace situations. The importance of connecting with and enjoying shared laughter with colleagues, while also empathizing over situations builds trust and compels them through tough spots.
“If things get bad, at least you can look around and feel that you are all in it together,” said Hensel.
10. Trust and integrity
Furthermore, Hensel’s ability to collaborate well with others while also working independently, as needed, elicited commendations.
She explains: “I didn’t get along with one element by disrespecting another. That is important. Making someone ‘feel good’ by inappropriately throwing someone under the bus is not cool. Sometimes the customer ‘isn’t’ right, but you need to help them navigate their issue and to come to a satisfying resolution. Respecting your company is as important as respecting the customer. Trust is fostered by integrity.”