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Celebrating National Carers Week: How Rod Palmer and Fiona Smith have utilised flexibility to become carers

National Carers Week aims to raise awareness for, and celebrate the contribution of, carers in Australia. Rod Palmer and Fiona Smith are just two of many Macquarie employees who have balanced work with caring responsibilities.

Macquarie is celebrating National Carers Week from 11-17 October, in recognition of the contribution carers make to our community. This year, Macquarie is proud to have received Level 1 accreditation as a Carer Friendly Employer through Carers + Employers.

From looking after a family member with a disability or health condition to caring for an ageing relative, many of our people take carers leave or have ongoing flexible work arrangements at some point in their careers.

Rod Palmer: Advocating for carers through Macquarie's Employee Network Group

In 1999, Rod Palmer began his career with Macquarie in Sydney. He led a team of credit analysts before transferring to London in 2008 to set up Macquarie Premium Funding UK where he worked until 2013.

In 2015, Rod's father became very unwell and Rod found himself in an unexpected situation. He needed to come back to Sydney to help his family.

“My sister was doing a great job but she had a family of her own to take care of," Rod explains. “I couldn't be a carer on the other side of the world so I moved back to Sydney and rejoined Macquarie."

Rod is currently working in the Business Banking Risk team for Banking and Financial Services in the Sydney office and combined this with caring for both his parents over the past five years.

“Dad had heart disease, diabetes and dementia and, after a long illness, he sadly passed away in 2018," says Rod. “Less than a year later Mum was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and passed away at the beginning of 2020."

Rod says that during his parents' illnesses his primary focus necessarily became his caring duties. Macquarie helped make this possible through a combination of flexible hours and carers leave.

“I genuinely don't know how I would have coped without the flexibility provided by Macquarie," Rod says.

“It gave me a feeling of comfort and safety. It meant I could care for my parents and attend hospital and medical appointments, as well as taking care of practicalities like grocery shopping and chores."

Rod recently joined Macquarie's Families and Carers Employee Network Group (ENG), which aims to support employees who have family or carer responsibilities through social activities, practical training and other initiatives to support carers.

“I feel very fortunate that I experienced such understanding from Macquarie during a challenging time and I'm keen to leverage my experiences to advocate for carers and contribute to the ENG," says Rod.

“My sister and I were able to be beside both parents as they took their last breath," says Rod. “I am incredibly grateful I was there."

His advice to other carers facing a similar journey is not to feel alone.

“It was undoubtedly the most challenging and most emotional time of my life," Rod says. “It's important to talk about it and there are also many resources and support services that can help carers."

“There are still times now where my sadness and grief boil over but the support of family and friends and the genuine understanding of my colleagues really helps."

Fiona Smith: Moving interstate and working remotely to be a carer

Fiona Smith has worked at Macquarie since 2008 and is currently a Lawyer for Commodities and Global Markets. Like Rod, she is a member of the Families and Carers ENG and the need for her to take on a carer's role came out of the blue.

“I always thought that Dad would walk out of the hospital," explains Fiona. “It was a devastating shock when he didn't."

Fiona's father had been her mother's carer after a severe accident left her mother with mobility, hearing and short term memory issues.

The sudden loss of her father meant that, in order to help her mother, Fiona's family had to begin a journey into what she describes as the maze of aged care support. To complicate things further, Fiona's mother lives in Queensland while she is in Sydney.

“We looked at aged care homes but ultimately Mum wanted to stay in her own home," Fiona says. “We all wanted to support that decision."

Fiona says it was stressful juggling her workload and team as well as trying to care for her mum from a distance.

When COVID-19 hit, Fiona says her mother felt extremely isolated, with family scattered across different cities and overseas unable to visit. Fiona made the decision to relocate to Queensland and work remotely to help care for her mum.

“My managers, my team and the businesses I work with have all been very supportive, both throughout the time of my father's illness and death as well as the complicated process of making Mum's care services a reality," Fiona says.

“Being able to temporarily move closer to Mum and work remotely during COVID-19 has meant I am more effective as a carer and less worried about her."

“Working a full-time job as well as being a carer has its challenges," says Fiona. “But being able to do my job remotely during COVID-19 makes it easier because I can work around Mum's appointments and routines."

Fiona says the time she has spent with her mum has been precious and has given her peace of mind, as well as a greater insight into the help her mum needs.

“The aged care system is not straightforward," Fiona says. “Don't be afraid to seek help and talk to others who have gone through the same experience."

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