The rise of employees with caring responsibilities: how employers can help

Caring is overlooked in the workplace, but with a few changes, employers can support workers that have work and caring responsibilities.

With as many as 600 workers a day quitting their job to become full-time carers, companies are losing valued staff at an alarming rate – yet, caring is often overlooked in the workplace. However, with a few simple changes, employers can support such employees, which improves retention and recruitment as a result.

There are currently 4.9 million people in the UK who combine work and caring responsibilities – that’s one in seven workers. With life expectancy increasing and, consequently, more and more people having to care for elderly relatives, this figure, according to Carers UK, a charity for carers, is set to rise further.

In  Juggling work and unpaid care: a growing issue, published earlier this year, the charity also revealed that the number of people who have given up work to care for a loved one has risen to 2.6 million, a 12% increase since 2013, with 468,000 quitting in the past two years alone – that equates to around 600 people a day. 

Coupled with this, in research released for Carers Week in June 2018, almost three-quarters (72%) of carers in the UK said they had suffered mental ill-health as a result of caring, while nearly two-thirds (61%) said their physical health had deteriorated. 

“The [report] emphasises the need for UK employers to support the rapidly increasing number of staff with caring responsibilities to stay in the workforce,” says Carers UK.

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, adds: “Better workplace support for people juggling paid work with caring for a loved one is becoming an increasingly important issue, with a growing need for employers to improve flexibility and, with an ageing population, support people to keep working for longer, contributing to better productivity.”

How employers can support employees combining work and caring responsibilities

By supporting employees that have work and caring responsibilities, companies can improve morale and reduce stress and sickness rates – aiding both retention and recruitment, as well as enhancing their reputation as a caring employer.

The charity’s report adds: “Companies, such as Centrica, have demonstrated strong business benefits to supporting carers and have suggested that, cumulatively, UK companies could save up to £4.8bn a year in unplanned absences and a further £3.4bn in improved employee retention by adopting flexible working policies to support those with caring responsibilities.” 

Clearly, caring causes a significant drain on the country’s workforce and these numbers are a “stark warning” to employers, who are losing valued employees as a consequence. 

According to the research, the top three interventions employees believe would be most helpful if they were juggling caring with a job are: 

  • A supportive employer/line manager 
  • Flexible working 
  • Additional paid care leave of between five and 10 days.

All of which are relatively easy to introduce, whatever the size of an organization.

Training managers

Line managers are usually the first port of call for staff and it is, therefore, prudent to provide them with training on supporting carers in the workplace. Managers are key, says online HR resource XpertHR, “to making a carers policy work and are also likely to have an impact on a carer’s ability to balance the demands of work and care”.

Additionally, ensuring managers are all on the same page ensures carers are treated fairly and consistently across an organisation, even when those managers move on. Managers are also in the best position to spot those staff that may be struggling with juggling work and caring responsibilities, and, indeed, identifying those employees that are carers in the first place. This is not always easy to do because people often choose not to disclose their situation, so obtaining such information requires sensitivity.

Flexible working

Flexible working comes in all shapes and sizes, from flexi-time to part-time, to job sharing, to working from home, to paid/unpaid time off, and more. Whichever method is employed, it is vital to work with the employee to determine the most appropriate solution.

While an employee who has at least 26 weeks’ continuous service has the right to request flexible working, XpertHR suggests, “having policies on flexible working that go beyond the law can also benefit carers”.

From a personal perspective, as a carer of a child with autism, my employer allowed me to work flexibly. Given that this was a small business, it would have been easy for him to refuse and shows that it is possible to incorporate flexible working and benefit as a result, whatever the size of a company.

Craig Rix, director at Gecko Publishing, explains: “If staff are distracted or unhappy, they will not be productive and this will rub off on other employees too – affecting not only their own morale but that of the whole team. Staff are your biggest asset and it is important to ensure they are happy and feel looked after; in return, they will look after you.

If my child was in need of attention, I would leave work to deal with them so that I could then focus on work properly. If I would do that, why shouldn’t I allow my staff to do so, too – it’s unreasonable to think otherwise.” 

>See Also: Public Sector organisations continue to lead the way in flexible working according to new survey

Additional paid leave

Being able to take additional paid leave can help a carer manage a crisis or take a longer period of time off to care for someone. While employees have a statutory right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid leave, employers can further support carers by offering ‘crisis support’ that goes beyond this entitlement – either through a specified period of additional paid leave or by giving them the ability to make up the time at a later date. 

Having analyzed other countries’ policies around a statutory right to paid care leave, Carers UK’s estimates that “paid care leave of at least five days per year could save the UK economy around £3.5bn a year”. 

What else?

Other simple solutions, says Carer Positive, a Scottish government-funded initiative, include allowing carers to have their mobile phone switched on (where otherwise they may not have been, such as in a call centre), providing a parking space close to the entrance to make getting in and out of work quicker and easier, and establishing workplace support groups. 

The organisation adds that embedding a culture of support is vital to enable carers to feel comfortable in the workplace. Having established such policies, communication of them is essential, whether this is via the internet, message boards or awareness training. 

Employee Benefits, an online resource for the rewards and employee benefits industry, adds: “A strategy to motivate and engage carers in the workplace should centre around providing flexibility and support that enables employees to enjoy a fruitful career alongside caring responsibilities. Demonstrating understanding and empathy, as well as access to benefits that support the physical and mental wellbeing of carers, can help these employees feel recognised and valued at work.”

>See Also: It’s time to provide better support to parents at work

Phil Clisby

Phil Clisby is a freelance journalist.

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