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26 November 2020

Supporting carers in the workplace isn’t just good for employees, it’s good for business.

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Posted by: Katy Mcminn

Carers UK have reported that over 5 million people in the UK are now having to combine work and caring responsibilities. This will rise even further as we are seeing life expectancy rise with more of us having to provide care for our elderly relatives.

Worryingly, we are seeing increasing numbers of people who are dropping out of the workforce to provide this care due to the challenge of balancing both an employed role and caring responsibilities. Carers UK published a study in 2019, Juggling work and unpaid care: a growing issue, which revealed the number of people giving up their job had risen to 2.6 million, a 12% increase since 2013, with 468,000 quitting just in the last between 2017-2019 years. This equates to around 600 people a day. 

An impact of this has been the increase in self employment, as those with caring responsibilities feel the only way they can secure the flexibility they need to carry out their caring responsibilities is to work for themselves. The Flexible Working Report conducted by the CIPD in 2019 confirmed there had been a large rise in self employment since 2005, with one of the primary reasons being flexibility. The ONS reports that there are now over 5 million self employed people in the UK, up from 3.2 million in 2000. 

The stats show that this is an issue for employers, so it’s important to look at why people are feeling the need to give up their jobs, with organisations seeing skills and talent walk out the door. Why can’t people juggle the two is a question many employers might ask. The clear and overwhelming reason is the impact this juggle has on the mental health of these employees. Research released for Carers Week in 2019, reported that 72% of carers in the UK said they had suffered with mental ill-health as a result of caring, with nearly two-thirds (61%) saying their physical health had deteriorated.

With the uncertainty and challenging environment, we are living in at the moment with the coronavirus pandemic, carers who are also juggling employment are often facing even more challenges. To mark Carers Rights Day 2020, a survey by Carers UK has reported that 78% of carers feel the needs of the person they are caring for has increased during the pandemic, and 67% have concerns with how they will cope with any further lockdowns or local restrictions. Additionally, it’s worth noting that:

  • Many employees rely on paid carers to look after their dependents who are falling ill themselves or having to self-isolate;  
  • Support systems and resources such as day centres for elderly relatives or wrap around care for children have often closed or are operating at reduced capacity or on reduced hours; 
  • Vulnerable relatives may be in a social bubble with an employee meaning they have sole responsibility for this dependent rather than being able to share the load with siblings. 

Things employers can do to support carers in the workplace:

Whilst employees with caring responsibilities have statutory rights, it’s also to recognise that employers who provide additional support to help employees manage their caring responsibilities can benefit from:

  • Reduced employee stress and higher job performance
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • Deeper commitment to the organisation
  • Lower levels of sickness absence
  • Decreased staff turnover

According to the research conducted by Carers UK in 2019, 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

Here are some additional things employers can think about doing:

  • Provide carer awareness training for managers 
  • Set up an internal group or forum and allow time for carers to attend
  • Ask carers what will help them successfully combine work and caring
  • Allow carers to have their mobile phone switched on (when typically this may not be permitted)
  • Provide a parking space close to the entrance to make getting in and out of work quicker and easier in case of emergencies

What can employers do to provide equal reward to all?

It is important to remember the likelihood is that all employees at some point may have caring responsibilities, and even if they don’t at the current time. To ensure every employee feels supported and valued, it’s worth thinking about the following:

  • Communication – have clear and transparent policies, so there is consistency between managers in terms of support offered.
  • Flexibility – ensure all employees can benefit from flexibility for whatever personal reasons they have – it may be personal development, personal wellbeing and/or time with family/friends. 
  • Agreement – make sure discussions take place and agreement is sought when asking other employees to cover work or shifts of those who are absent due to caring responsibilities, often at short notice – think about how you can recognise and acknowledge those employees.

With the number of carers in the UK growing by the day, it is inevitable that we will all at some point have to take on caring responsibilities. Organisations need to be aware of the juggle an increasing number of their employees are facing and provide the necessary support and flexibility to enable them to successfully manage this to avoid losing valuable skills and talent.  

Author: Katy McMinn, Co-Founder, HRi