Statistics vary, but it is estimated that there are between 2 million and 6 million unpaid carers in the UK and many of them are also holding down a paid job.
If you employ even only a few people, it is likely that one or more of them is a carer. This means they spend many hours a week giving care to a family member or friend on a voluntary basis. According to Carers UK, 50 hours unpaid work a week is not unusual for unpaid carers. Many of these may be struggling to balance work with their caring responsibilities. It is likely that most of them will have to take time off work or work irregular hours because they care for someone else. Some of them may need to choose whether or not to continue at work. A survey last year showed that 2 out of 5 (40%) of carers in work are quitting or reducing their hours.
And these figures are rising.
It is not just about the demands on their time or the need for flexibility at work. Caring for someone can be physically exhausting and an emotional drain. As a result, the carer may feel isolated and unsupported and may even be facing their own mental health challenges.
The so-called “squeezed” generation are caring for both children and elderly parents as well. It is no wonder that they find employment challenging.
Caring for the carers is good for business
Your employees do not have to tell you if they are carers, but if they feel safe and supported at work they are more likely to do so. And this means you can provide the support they need. This helps you to plan for unexpected eventualities or the need for emergency leave or a sudden need for some time off.
If they don’t feel supported, then they may have to make the difficult decision to leave work and concentrate on being a carer. That is a potential headache for you as their employer. Especially if they are a key member of the team and good at their job. Not to mention the extra cost involved in recruiting and training new staff.
On the other hand, if you are supportive to the carers in your workplace, then you will find that employees are keen to remain in your employment. Even those who aren’t carers (yet!). They are also more likely to be willing to put in extra effort. They want to stay with a good employer as much as you want to keep a good team. Then, when you do have to recruit new staff, that may be easier too if you have a reputation as a good and supportive employer.
Additionally, If you are looking after your employee, then they are less likely to go off sick themselves.
And all of this increased productivity comes at little cost to you as an employer. The measures we suggest are all easy to implement and at little or no cost.
How can we support them in their caring responsibilities?
- You could put something in your employment policies about the rights of carers, or you might even have a dedicated carer policy. And then you should regularly tell your staff about it. This raises awareness of your support for carers. This helps those who are carers, of course, but it will also have a positive effect on others in the workplace, as a demonstration that you are a caring and inclusive employer.
- You might want to train your line managers – and yourself – on how to support carers and being an understanding employer. This will enable you to help any carers to balance the demands of work and their caring responsibilities.
- Offer flexible working. This could be through formal policies, but also informal arrangements where there is an emergency or sudden need. This does not just mean flexible start and/or finish times, but also home working or part-time working.
- It would also be helpful to provide somewhere private for employees to make a personal phone call and give them the time to do so.
- Allowing leave at short notice for carers could make all the difference if they need to manage a crisis. All employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work for dependants on an unpaid basis, but you may want to offer more. For example, you could allow carers the chance to take extended leave. A new law is due to come in later this year which will allow 5 days unpaid leave for carers, but this is only the very minimum of what a good employer could offer.
- Provide information about support available (both internally and externally) and how to access it.
- Set up an internal carer’s support group, so your employees can discuss their issues with colleagues who are facing the same challenges. Just knowing that they are not alone and that their employer is supportive can make a huge difference.