Supporting Caregivers, Colleagues, and Neighbors

“Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends.” – The Beatles

And don’t forget family, colleagues, neighbors. And, these days, the chatty checker at the grocery store, the postal carrier who offers a wave, even the guy who makes oh-so-brief eye contact at a stoplight. We’re all getting by with a little help from anyone who will offer it.   

two people wearing masks and social distancing give waves in the subway station

Care. Support. Help! We provide and receive these gifts throughout our entire lives. The pandemic, however, has prompted many of us to feel the weight of their importance more than ever. We simply need one another to get by. Lending someone a helping hand can be tremendous therapy, too. Today we pause to appreciate three distinct ways our Promega community is supporting colleagues in times of need.     

Care for Caregivers   

November is National Family Caregivers Month in the US, a time to recognize and honor caregivers, raise awareness of family caregiver issues and increase support for these humble heroes. Statistics show more than 40 million Americans each year provide unpaid care for a child or adult, and the pandemic has surely increased this number and exacerbated the challenges. Many take on this responsibility while juggling regular full-time jobs. This begs the question: Who is caring for these caregivers?

Promega offers US employees three weeks annually to care for aging parents, ill spouses or domestic partners, children with medical needs, or time off to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child, without sacrificing their own paid sick leave or vacation. (In 2021, Promega will increase Caregiver Leave to 120 hours.) The benefit went into effect in 2018, and since then, 327 employees have used more than 10,000 hours of paid Caregiver Leave.

Promega science writer Kelly Grooms began using the benefit in January 2020 when she unexpectedly found herself sitting at her 83-year-old mother’s bedside in the ICU unit of an Iowa hospital. Complications from emergency surgery meant months of rotating stays in the hospital, a long-term care facility and a nursing home, all a state away from Kelly’s home in Wisconsin.    

Picture shows a younger person helping an elderly person. Supporting caregivers is essential.

“Over that time, I spent a couple days every other week driving to Des Moines to see her and then to my hometown of Fort Dodge to see my Dad,” says Kelly. “I am thankful that through all of this, the one thing I didn’t need to worry about was anything to do with work.”

Todd Swanson, a validation scientist at Promega, agrees. He cares for his mother, who was diagnosed with vascular dementia and has suffered multiple falls resulting in hospital stays. She needs to be accompanied to medical appointments and Todd’s father, who suffers from hearing loss, is well-intended but not reliable to communicate medical information. So, Todd devotes quite a lot of time to caring for both of his parents.

“Caregiver Leave enables me to take care of my family without the added stress of worry about work obligations or having enough sick leave to cover both me and my parents’ health issues,” says Todd. “Given that dementia is a one-way path, I know I will need to be available to help with what the future may bring. I am grateful that Promega has my back and supports me in my personal life as well as my work life.”

Benefits manager Diana Clark says Caregiver Leave has only strengthened the sense of community at Promega. “Overall, it’s been a rich and meaningful improvement to our benefits offerings. Many of the struggles that employees were experiencing privately before, they are now finding others that are in similar situations and connecting.  We’ve been better able to, as an organization, support our caregiving population because we now know who they are, have conversations about their needs, and can work with them to ensure that they have all the necessary resources available.”

 Support During Challenging Times

As discussions about issues caregivers face gained momentum at Promega Madison a few years ago, employees began asking what more they could do to support their coworkers struggling to balance so many responsibilities. A reflexive “How can I help?” mindset became a grassroots effort to provide help to any Promega employee struggling with their own challenges such as death of a loved one, illness/injury or other challenging life transitions. The Circle of Caring was born.

Around 175 Promega employees currently make up the Circle, providing support where and when it’s needed. The group is like a fire brigade called in to help in an emergency. Requests range from providing meals and doing yardwork to even sand bagging during torrential rains. Circle of Caring volunteers have helped an estimated 30 Promega employees since the effort was organized in 2018.

Elderly father,  adult son and grandson out for a walk in the park. Supporting family caregivers is important.

Product finishing technician Adrian Ciobanu is one of them. Circle of Caring volunteers supported his family following the birth of his twins in August, providing meals and lawncare, which Adrian says was “a major stress reliever.”

“I want to be a part of the Circle of Caring as well so that I can bless people with the amazing blessings that they have given me,” says Adrian.

While this year has been difficult for everyone, marketing manager Lotte Downey has had an overwhelming share of hardship. Since April, she has lost nine family members and even her dog.

“The most overwhelming was the loss of my mother and my husband,” says Lotte. “I was in the Netherlands for the funeral of my mother, when my son called me to tell me my husband had passed away unexpectedly.  As you can imagine, I was devastated.”

“In what company would the CFO come and mow your lawn?!” says Lotte.

Circle of Caring volunteers rushed in, filling the sign-up to help Lotte in record time. Lotte says she is humbled and grateful for the continued support she and her son have received in this difficult and emotional time.

“In what company would the CFO come and mow your lawn?!” says Lotte. “The designation of ‘Circle of Caring’ is really appropriate as it feels like we are encircled by the love and support of all. It really is unique to Promega and makes me proud to work there.”

Propping Up Parents

Parenting is a demanding endeavor, no matter what. Add quarantine restrictions, disrupted schedules and virtual schooling, and you have a recipe for anxiety as parents struggle to balance the needs of work and their children. To support these unique and specific challenges, Promega Madison began offering a number of interventions.

Mature man wearing a protective mask puts a face mask on a his son. Supporting caregivers like parents is important.

The Promega Madison Wellness Center offers virtual, parent-focused consultation sessions with a mental health therapist, Promega parents can access up to 80 hours of additional paid time off to support virtual schooling and/or to care for children due to daycare or school closings, plus parents can apply to receive a monthly stipend to help pay for an individual or service to assist their child(ren) with virtual schooling.

Promega also partnered with the organizer of a local learning community to provide a small, safe “pod” in a large unused meeting space on the Madison campus. Camp Ideation allows school-aged children of employees to “attend” their own school district’s virtual learning classes under the supervision of in-person teachers. Students are also provided opportunities for outdoor education, enrichment activities, and programming that supports mindfulness, creativity, and social and emotional well-being.

“I love our hikes,” says Ethan. “My favorite one is when I found the snapping turtle.”

For production scientist Paula Sequeira, who needs to work on-site in the lab, the learning community has been a lifesaver for her family, as well as a much-needed creative outlet for daughter Giuliana and son Ethan.

“Camp Ideation has lots of cool art supplies that I use to make different crafts,” says Giuliana. “My favorite craft was when we made natural dyes and used them to color cheese cloth.”

“I love our hikes,” says Ethan. “My favorite one is when I found the snapping turtle.”

Paula simply appreciates the continuity and sense of normalcy. “As a household with two working parents, it has allowed us to continue working our regular hours and without much disruption to our schedule.”

 Help! (Ask for it when you need it)

We all need help at some point in our lives, and perhaps now more than ever. But the most difficult thing for most people is to seek it out. Author Charley Mackesy expresses this beautifully in his distinctly illustrated book, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. I won’t give away the story but will share what could be the most powerful two lines in the book.

“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy.

“Help,” said the horse. 

We would love to hear from you. What stories of successful caregiver support do you have to share?

Read more about how we encourage creativity, build connections and empower employees at our Corporate Responsibility Website.

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Karen Burkhartzmeyer
Karen is a Communication Specialist who has the privilege of helping to tell the Promega story in a multitude of ways. A former reporter, producer and teacher, Karen holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She is the mom of teenage twins and one very spoiled (yet deserving) rescue dog.

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