Tackling the working carer challenge
Working carers are a reality none of us – families, businesses, or the wider economy – can afford to ignore. Caring for an ill, elderly or disabled family member or friend will have an impact on most of us at some point – and more often than not during our working lives. And yet it’s still an issue many of us find hard to talk about in the workplace – whether that’s our own or a team member’s situation as a working carer.
The peak age for caring is 50-64, just when many workers are at the height of their skills and experience. And, with our ageing population (as well as workforce), the pressures of juggling work and caring are only set to rise.
As we know at Employers for Carers, to retain employee skills and talent – and productivity and performance – it’s vital that the one in nine people in our workplaces who are working carers know where to turn for information and support. Failing to act on this issue means facing increased absenteeism and recruitment and training costs – as employers already addressing this well understand.
So why is caring still such a hidden issue in so many workplaces? Firstly, it can be difficult, worrying and stressful to think about – let alone talk about – at work. And, secondly, it’s a doubly silent subject because so many of us simply don’t recognise ourselves as ‘carers’. We just see ourselves as daughters, sons, partners, parents or friends going about our daily lives, and so don’t come forward for support.
Breaking through the barriers faced by working carers
How can employers break through this double barrier? It’s really about having the conversation about caring in the workplace. And about creating the open and supportive culture that can make this happen. And the key people here are line managers.
Ten tips for making it happen
- Communicate. Be open and clear about the policies and practices within your organisation that are relevant to caring – especially flexible working and leave policies – so that this is understood both within HR teams and by line managers.
- Educate. Ensure that manager education and training includes information about caring situations that may arise and workplace policies and practices that can help. Not all managers will have experience of caring, so make this information explicit.
- Refer. Remind line managers to talk to their teams about any employee assistance/staff welfare programmes provided – and to mention caring as an example of where these may help – so that this becomes part of the wider conversation too.
- Connect. Encourage line managers to promote any staff networks available in your workplace that may provide peer support for carers (this may either be as a specific carers network or part of a wider network).
- Reinforce. Openly support and underline key messages about carer support, for example by including this within wider diversity and inclusion/health and wellbeing awareness raising activities which managers can highlight to their staff. And by using opportunities such as Carers Week (6 to 12 June) to make sure that everyone in your organisation is aware of the support available in the workplace and externally.
- Raise awareness. Let all members of your team know about the policies and practices that your organisation has in place to support staff with caring responsibilities. Caring can happen to anyone at any time, so it’s important to be prepared.
- Reach out. Without being intrusive, get to know your staff and their circumstances. Don’t underestimate how hard it is for people to identify themselves as carers and come forward for support – so build trust and be approachable.
- Be flexible. Be prepared to listen and to review what support may be available. Be consultative and encourage an open dialogue. There may need to be give and take, so be prepared to try things on a trial basis if needed and to consider a compromise.
- Signpost. Direct colleagues to workplace and external support (for example advice and information services such as Carers UK). Make sure that workplace support is easily accessible via your staff intranet, bulletins, noticeboards, handbooks etc.
- Lead by example. Openly support and reinforce the messages of your organisation’s policies and practices, for example, by promoting cases where support has been taken up. Make it ‘OK to talk about caring’ in your team.
Many employers already recognise the benefits to their business of supporting carers in the workplace, but there is still a long way to go before this becomes the norm. And, crucially, a long way to go before what is policy becomes practice. It falls to the bedrock of these organisations, the line managers, to make the real difference in getting us there.