Why having a workplace carer policy is becoming increasingly important
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Why having a workplace carer policy is becoming increasingly important

As a population, we’re ageing. Right now in the UK, there are over three million carers combining work with caring responsibilities; more than two million of whom work full-time. Your organisation probably employs several people with caring responsibilities, and this number will rise. By the mid-point of the 21st century, it’s projected that the world’s population of over-85s will have increased more than fivefold.

Unfortunately, when carers are made to choose between caring responsibilities and professional responsibilities it’s often a lose-lose situation for them and their employer. Does your company have a workplace carer policy in place to ensure you’re not forcing your employees to choose?

Losing valuable investments

As the number of carers rises, businesses are losing more and more valuable employees who feel they cannot combine their work with the demands of caring. Six in 10 working carers are worried about their ability to remain in work over the next year, according to the 2015 State of Caring Survey.

The peak age range for caring, 45−64, is also the point at which people are most likely to have developed the skills employers need to succeed. So, aside from the usual recruitment and turnover costs, companies are losing the training and development they have invested in these employees.

Stopping the carer brain drain

Lack of workplace support adds to the stress, anxiety and isolation that many employees with caring responsibilities are already feeling, and it’s identified as one of the main influencers for their decision to leave work. In 2013, the Carers in Employment Task and Finish Group developed the evidence base for supporting carers to remain in work. The report found that employers who had policies in place to support carers saw improved service delivery, cost savings and increased productivity.

In a world of increasing demands for employee engagement, it makes sense to consider strategic, long-term support for working carers as part of your approach to employee wellbeing. If your organisation doesn’t already have a carer strategy in place, it’s time to think seriously about developing one.

Five steps to develop a workplace carer policy

  1. Understand that carers’ experiences are different
    People’s caring responsibilities differ significantly and no two carers’ experiences are identical. Carers may need to attend routine medical appointments or they may be called out for urgent matters at any time of day. They may need to be available to care in the late afternoon, or need to travel for caring responsibilities several days a week. Any workplace carer support mechanisms to relieve stress and sick leave will need to be flexible and responsive to individual and changing needs.
  1. Examine what you’re doing now
    Carers UK found that almost a quarter (23%) of working carers felt they receive no support from their employer, which tells us that many businesses could be doing a whole lot better. A good place to start is by auditing the workplace flexibility and carer policies your organisation currently offers, then inviting carers in your workplace to review them and provide honest feedback. Employees may be unaware of the support that’s available to them, or they may feel that what you’re currently offering is not helpful to their situation.
  1. If you don’t know what they need, ask
    Carers may feel anxious about how others perceive their ability to work and care, and if there’s little recognition of caring issues in your company they could be reluctant to ask for help. Start regular communications about carer strategies and other support mechanisms so that you can gain a clearer picture of what types of caring responsibilities your employees have, and what kind of support they need. For many employees, it may be about the ability to choose more convenient hours or having options to work remotely.
  1. Analyse what you’ve found and investigate further
    Hold focus groups with your employees to examine the extent to which staff can navigate their work and caring responsibilities. More flexible arrangements for leave and for working hours and patterns are frequently cited as the type of employer support that would make the most difference to carers. Investigate how staff would like to pursue their requested support, taking a considered approach to balancing their needs with the needs of your business. You may need to introduce skills training or new methods of communication as ways of working adapt.
  1. Develop a strategy based on what you’ve learned
    Once you have a clearer picture of your employees’ caring responsibilities, you can begin to develop a robust policy. Use it to bridge the gap between the support your company already offers and the extra needs you’ve identified. Take steps like educating line managers to directly support staff through things like discussing flexible working and leave arrangements in one-to-ones; arranging emergency cover; and deciding the best way to make other team members aware of caring responsibilities where necessary. Your strategy should be adaptable to different types of caring roles, and take into account long-term planning that supports staff returning from leave or career breaks.

A workplace carer policy that works for your business and your employees will deliver benefits to both. Visit Employers for Carers to find out more about giving carers the support they need at work; this guide for working carers from BWC may help your employees more clearly identify the kind of support they need from you.