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Working carers frequently have to deal with care emergencies, but are their line managers able to help?

With Carers Week 2017 following hot on the heels of a hard-fought election – in which the issue of social care played a major role – supporting employees with caring responsibilities has taken on a sharper significance than ever before.
Just as the election outcome was unexpected, working carers often face sudden crises or emergencies arising from their caring responsibilities: anything from medical emergencies to unexpected bills. From time to time, these situations can impact on an employees’ ability to function well in their job, or even attend work. Businesses could perhaps do more to support carers as they seek to discharge their caring and work responsibilities.

Who needs support?

Workplace policies to support carers aren’t yet the norm – 38% of businesses don’t have carer policies or plans to develop them. This despite Carers UK’s estimate that 3 million people in the UK combine caring for a loved one with paid work.
One reason is simply lack of awareness. Some working carers don’t think of themselves as such – they feel they’re simply supporting loved ones. A joint study of this group by the CIPD and Westfield Health found nearly 40% were reluctant to talk about their caring responsibilities in the workplace. In some cases, this was due to fears that doing so would affect their prospects. Your line managers may not even be aware which of their team might need support at short notice. By introducing a carer policy, or supporting events such as Carers Week, your organisation can engage with, and so better understand, the needs of employees who may face caring emergencies.

How support for carers benefits everyone

Not supporting employees dealing with care-related crises can have significant consequences both for employees and employers. Three-fifths of working carers have either cut their hours or given up work altogether – resulting in loss of their expertise to the organisation – while 70% have used up their annual leave to deal with caring responsibilities. In addition, 25% of working carers have either not accepted a promotion or not applied for one, because they felt unable to combine caring with a more demanding role. Decisions like these affect employees, who fail to maximise their potential, and businesses, which miss out on the contributions of large numbers of employees.

The organisation Employers for Carers has set out a strong business case for supporting carers. Benefits range from reduced costs – replacing an employee can cost as much as 150% of their salary – as well as improved productivity, resilience, reduced recruitment costs, better staff morale and service delivery.

Five ways to support working carers facing emergencies

1. Make carer contingency plans
Working carers may have to drop everything to deal with a care emergencies. Many work long hours afterwards to make up for it, which may affect their performance. To prevent this, your line managers can develop contingency plans to maintain operational capability. This might involve changing schedules or reallocating workloads if someone has to leave work for a short-notice appointment. By planning in advance, managers can improve their team’s overall resilience.

2. Introduce flexible working arrangements
Your line managers can also allow flexible working arrangements to help employees deal with care emergencies. Examples might include allowing working carers to change their work pattern, job share, go part time, or work from home.

3. Introduce a matched leave policy
Your organisation could also consider introducing a matched leave policy. In this arrangement, if an employee takes a day off specifically to deal with a care-related situation, you replace it with a day’s leave, up to an agreed monthly allocation. Employees with caring responsibilities do not then have to use up their leave for care emergencies, helping them stay fresh and productive.

4. Increase awareness of carer issues
You can increase awareness of care issues within your organisation through initiatives such as setting up a carers’ network, or organising a carers’ day or week. Such activities can even prompt ‘hidden carers’ in a team to open up about their situation and needs. Encourage your line managers to familiarise themselves with carer employment rights, including the right to request flexible working, and reasonable time off to deal with emergencies. This will help them understand and meet carers’ needs better, while maintaining team performance.

5. Develop a carers’ advice package
You might also consider developing a working carers’ advice package as a resource for your line managers. This should contain guidelines on issues such as short-notice appointments, flexible working and leave arrangements. It can also include information on external organisations or charities that could advise on benefits and one-off grants for employees facing sudden financial demands.

Supporting working carers in crisis

By raising awareness among your line managers of the issues facing working carers – particularly the likelihood of unplanned situations – your line managers can both support their team members and increase the resilience of the team as a whole.