Expert view: how employers can better support carers in the workplace
Looking after staff wellbeing has become a top priority for employers in recent years, with an increasing number of organisations acknowledging that healthy and engaged staff are more likely to be productive and achieve better results.
Workforce strategies that focus on mental health are on the rise and provide useful support through initiatives such as ‘Time to Talk Days’, which encourage staff members to have a conversation about how they are feeling, or employee assistance programmes offering specialised advice on personal or work problems.
For a long time, the impact of mental ill-health wasn’t acknowledged in the workplace and employers saw staff burn out, or sometimes even drop out of work. The same can be said about the impact of caring which is gradually becoming better understood. Recent research by Carers UK shows a huge number of our colleagues – on average one in seven of the UK workforce – are combining work with caring for a loved one who is older, disabled or seriously ill.
Juggling work and caring for a family member or friend can be a tricky balancing act. It’s a lot to handle and many of us do it, particularly those of us in our 40s and 50s. Taking a disabled partner or child to regular hospital appointments, or cooking and cleaning for mum and checking she has taken her medication are tasks that, for some people, are just “what you have to do.” People manage as best they can, often, without thinking to ask their employer for support.
Yet, caring for others can too often mean carers having to put their own needs on hold, which can then have a detrimental effect on their mental and physical health as they struggle to manage it all. Very often, people don’t even see themselves as carers in the first place and so don’t come forward for help. It’s easy to feel like you’re struggling alone.
The consequences of failing to support carers at work are huge. More than 600 people give up work every day to care – that’s nearly half a million people in the last two years. They take with them their talent and valuable years of experience.
With our ageing population and the need to work for longer, carer-inclusive policies and practices are becoming increasingly important. By putting the right support in place, businesses can prevent both staff presenteeism, where staff work while unwell or not at their best, and unplanned absences. Ultimately, this could save UK companies up to £4.8 billion a year, estimates energy firm Centrica, which has made supporting carers in its workforce a priority.
Carers UK has long been campaigning for improved workplace rights for carers. We continue to urge the government to introduce a right to five to 10 days of paid care leave, as well as the option to request flexible working from day one of starting a new job.
Besides supportive policies there’s much employers can do to create a carer friendly culture at work – from setting up staff carers networks to signposting carers to information and advice about caring.
Help is available from Employers for Carers, Carers UK’s business forum, which helps businesses to develop carer friendly workplaces. It has recently launched a UK-wide employer benchmarking scheme, Carer Confident, which recognises and accredits UK employers that have successfully built carer inclusive workplaces. Find out more at www.employersforcarers.org.
The author is Katherine Wilson, head of employment, Carers UK.
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