While employers are starting to provide more flexible work adjustments for employees, carers are still missing out, affecting their employment prospects and retention rates in businesses.
Working carers – a background
A 2018 study from electric services firm Centrica estimated that UK companies could save up to £4.8 billion a year in unplanned absences and £3.4 billion in improved employee retention by adopting flexible working policies to support carers, who can struggle to balance their working and caring roles.
This year, the Government has confirmed that carers will be entitled to one working week of unpaid leave per year, focusing on dependents with long-term care needs.
This ruling highlights the need for employers to understand carers’ struggles and better support them, or else they could see carers reduce their hours or leave employment.
Carers Rights Day – goals for employers
Carers UK, a non-profit organisation, is encouraging carers to find out about their rights as part of Carers Rights Day on 25 November 2021, to help them stay in full-time work.
They want employers to empower working carers by adopting carer friendly employment practises, be
early proponents of unpaid Carer’s Leave, and extend it to paid options if possible.
They also want flexible working as a day-one right for employees, which is currently under consultation by the Government and is due to close on 1 December 2021 and could benefit carers.
The charity’s awareness-raising campaign for carers follows its new report, ‘Supporting Carers at work: opportunity and imperative’, which outlines the struggles they face balancing their dual responsibilities. At worst, some are considering reduced hours or leaving work in lieu of adequate support from employers.
Productivity, progression and retention risks
Their research shows that carers face productivity and career progression barriers in the workplace and need more flexible accommodations to help them remain employed and succeed in their jobs.
They found that 77% of carers felt tired at work because of the demands of their caring role, while six out of ten had given up work opportunities due to their caring responsibilities.
Lack of care support is a big reason why working carers are at risk of leaving their jobs. One in five (20%) of all working carers said they needed affordable care or would be at risk of reducing their working hours or leaving the workplace. A further 10% needed services they used to rely on to return to work.
The impact of COVID-19 and solutions
Yet, employers are increasingly aware of working carers’ other responsibilities, with 34% of respondents confirming their employer had become “much more understanding of caring” during the pandemic.
Over half (51%) of respondents said that their line manager “understood caring well and was supportive,” and 52% said they had benefited from more flexible working in the workplace.
Despite this progress, a substantial minority (24%) said their employer was “not understanding of caring.”
Respondents were clear that paid Carer’s Leave would help them stay in work. One in five (22%) had the ability to take paid Carer’s Leave, while 45% said they needed it, which shows that organisations with the financial capacity should be offering carers this as a retention and support measure.
A further 13% were at risk of reducing working hours or giving up work if they didn’t have paid leave. A relatively low 36% had the ability to take unpaid Carer’s Leave, which suggests that some carers simply can’t afford to do so, leaving them to struggle to balance their dual roles as employees and unpaid carers.
Offering work-from-home options is essential to help carers stay in employment, with one in eight saying that if they didn’t have this, they would be at risk of reducing their working hours or leaving their job.
Flexibility is the best option for employers wanting to retain caregiving staff, as 53% of carers involved in the study said returning to the workplace following COVID-19 would be more challenging.
But not all carers want the same accommodations, as some might consider the office a welcome break from caring, further highlighting the importance of flexibility and for the carer to choose what suits them.
Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said: “It’s great to see that flexible working and carers’ support within the workplace has made progress, but we can see from carers’ experiences that we’re at a crossroads where it’s still make or break for many.
“Carers have been providing more care than ever, with very few getting the breaks they need and the support they normally rely on. As a result, they are exhausted and in poorer health.
“There is more that employers can do to support carers. They can throw workers a lifeline like flexible working and Carer’s Leave that is not only supportive for carers but makes good business sense, too. Leading good practise employers have demonstrated that supporting carers and providing greater flexibility is not only desirable, it’s also very doable. And there’s no time to lose. With labour markets tight, it’s essential for businesses to maintain productivity levels and keep key staff.
“The other part of the equation is greater investment in care services that carers both need and rely on to stay in paid work. There is only so far flexible working from employers can compensate for lack of good quality care services.”
For advice and support on caring, please visit the Carers UK website here.