Carers in the workplace: three ways for employers to provide support
Workplace Thought Leadership Team | June 8, 2021
Time to read: 4 minutes
How many of us would apply for this job? Long, irregular hours; stressful conditions; no holidays; no recognition; no training; no support; no pay.
Even in the darkest days of the Covid-19 pandemic, with millions of people on furlough or out of work, this would not have been a tantalising prospect. Yet it is the norm for millions of our fellow citizens: carers.
In the past year, the outpouring of appreciation for NHS staff, care home staff, and key workers was because of the excellent, invaluable and selfless service they provided to the public in very difficult times. But meanwhile, the silent army of carers was once again largely overlooked.
Yet the financial, emotional and logistical stress of trying to balance multiple roles – for instance, unpaid care with work and looking after children – can be overwhelming.
During the pandemic the situation for many carers changed. For some the ability to be at home meant it was easier to juggle caring and working, for others the inability to leave the house for work increased the stresses of caring.
Carers remain relatively unseen in society. This reflects a troubling reality that needs to change: almost three out of ten carers have not talked to anyone at work about their caring responsibilities, according to research conducted by the University of Sheffield.
Luckily, employers can make a rapid and meaningful difference to the quality of life for their employees who are also carers. Outlined below are three ways to effectively support employees who are carers.
1. Emergency leave
Give carers in your organisation up to 10 days of paid leave every year, to allow them to deal with both emergencies and planned caring needs. Doing so will help to remove additional stress from already fraught situations.
It will also reap considerable benefits in terms of staff retention and loyalty, as well as boosting your ability to recruit valuable employees who may have relatives to support.
Carers’ leave is typically recognised by a workforce as a benefit. Carers can carefully choose how to use this benefit, taking the minimum amount of time off in order to minimise the impact of their absence on colleagues and employer.
2. Communication and leadership
Introducing carers’ leave represents a significant cultural shift in any organisation. The task of persuading, influencing and advocating for such a change can best be achieved with the support of champions within the business. Such champions may often be colleagues with a relative who is dependent on care.
Any leader who has a parent with dementia, a child with a long-term disability, or a partner or other loved one who has been a carer will understand emotionally the challenges involved.
Now that you have identified your carer champion(s), explained the business benefits of carers’ leave and have their agreement to participate, you can move to the next step: leadership.
Ideally, your carer champion will share their story with colleagues in a structured cascade. Even more important is to empower and encourage other carers to feel comfortable with sharing their personal circumstances.
Sadly, the population of carers is permanently in flux. From month to month, some of your employees will experience the death of a loved one, which can change their carer status. And others could find themselves, gradually or suddenly, becoming carers for the first time.
This constant change means that regularly communicating and engaging with employees regarding caring can be beneficial. On a monthly basis, for example, remind your teams of how much you value carers and how your organisation supports them.
Every organisation will have its own preferred communication channels, but we can all agree on the power and effectiveness of storytelling.
Carers have less time than almost anybody else, so asking them to take on another responsibility could be a really big ask. You can make it far easier for them to tell and share their stories, however, by asking them simple questions that will help to frame a powerful narrative:
- Who do you care for?
- How do you care for them?
- How do you manage it with work?
- What could work do to make it easier?
- What’s your hope for the future?
The final question is especially important because we all need hope, don’t we?
3. Age enlightenment
As a society we already have more people over the age of 65 than we do under the age of five. More people require care every year, and this is expected to continue.
This has major implications for employers. Although pretty much anyone at any age could become a carer. One in three workers is now over 50 – the age at which elderly parents and relatives of these workers could begin to require more support – so it’s vital to engage with this section of your workforce.
Introducing carers’ leave can give you a head start in the battle to recruit and retain valuable employees in this age group who have vulnerable relatives to support. Think of it as analogous to maternity leave, and indeed, paternity leave.
As a society, we all now accept the right of new parents to take up to a year off to look after their children. Surely then, we can see the logic and compassion in allowing employees considerably less time off to look after someone who has become dependent at the other end of their life.
Respecting these basic human rights also makes hard business sense as well. As our concept of the workplace evolves in the wake of the pandemic, supporting carers helps to differentiate your organisation in the competition for skills and talent. Your employer brand and corporate reputation could also benefit.
So-called altruistic and emotional capitalism is a trend of the future – now’s the time to get a head start.
The information here is based on our understanding in June 2021 and shouldn’t be taken as financial advice.