Research: how the juggling act of caring is broadening for employees

Juggling while riding a unicycle along a tightrope might seem like an extreme visual representation of what it's like for working carers, but it’s probably not that far off the mark.

Research: how the juggling act of caring is broadening for employees

In my own family, my parents are currently carers for my grandmother. They’re retired, but have put all of their retirement plans on hold to be on hand for her, and I have seen the mental exhaustion of numerous hospital trips, calls to doctors, carers and other health professionals, take its toll on them. Tellingly, my dad commented: “I don’t know how we would have done this if we had both still been at work”.

The current situation for carers

Carers UK’s annual State of Caring 2019 report reveals that, of the 7,500 carers they surveyed, 39% were in paid work. And overall, the number of working carers was found to be higher than previously thought and now stands at an estimated 4.87 million – the equivalent of one in seven employees.

Of those working carers surveyed, just 4% said that caring has had no impact on their capacity to work. Many reported that their work had been negatively affected in some way, with 17% admitting to working the same hours but that their work was affected by tiredness, lateness and stress. A further 18% of working carers had reduced their hours, 12% had taken a less qualified job or turned down a promotion, while 11% had retired early to care for a loved one.

One of the clear things to come out of this report is that more people are taking up caring responsibilities and this figure is only going to increase as the population continues to age. Another factor fuelling this rise is the pressure on the social care system and the fact that, in some cases, the social care provisions on offer from the state are not sufficient.

Juggling work and care  

Currently around 600 people give up work every day to care for someone. This is a staggering loss to the UK workforce and to individual businesses that are losing talented employees, not to mention the cost in lost productivity, and recruiting and training a new team member.

The Juggling Work and Care report, also from Carers UK, points to organisations such as Centrica, which has demonstrated the business benefits of supporting carers. It suggested that, cumulatively, UK companies could save up to £4.8 billion a year in unplanned absences, and a further £3.4 billion in improved retention by adopting flexible working practices to support those with caring responsibilities.

There were also key differences found between men and women about the type of support they would value. Women tended to rate culture and support mechanisms within the workplace as more valuable and useful than men. Given the higher rate of caring amongst women in the workplace – many of whom become sandwich carers looking after both older and younger dependents – recognising unpaid care can become a core part of any diversity programme.

Overall, Carers UK are strong advocates for introducing paid carers leave, as well as flexible working policies to help support working carers.

Carers leave provisions

Although there is currently no statutory right for carers leave, the Queen indicated in her speech at the end of last year, that: “Measures will be brought forward to encourage flexible working, to introduce the entitlement to leave for unpaid carers and to help people save for later life.”

Last year, the Work and Pensions Committee called on the government to give working carers more day-one rights over flexible working and to introduce five days’ paid statutory leave for carers. It remains to be seen whether this amount of leave will be introduced under the government’s plans. However, it now seems likely that this statutory benefit will be introduced for working carers in the near future.

Broader issues for working carers

Beyond working arrangements, employers can also support working carers with wider practical issues, such as the financial pressures that come with caring for another.

The Caring & Family Finances inquiry report found that working carers not only had to face higher costs at home, such as higher utility bills, transport costs and paying for specialist equipment and adaptations. But some are also faced with lower incomes if they have to reduce their working hours or feel they have to give up work altogether. Not only does this have an immediate impact, but it also affects their long-term financial wellbeing.

Figures in this report suggest that one in three carers are more than £20,000 a year worse off as a result of caring. This isn’t just down to reduced income and retirement savings, but also due to reduced earning potential, with many carers reporting loss of confidence and skills when they attempt to return to work after a break due to caring.

How to support working carers

The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) report Evaluation of the Carers in Employment (CiE) Project considered how employers can more effectively support working carers. And although it considers various strategies to support carers, such as flexible working practices and inclusive HR policies, it’s main recommendation is for workplaces to promote cultures that embrace and meet the diverse needs of its workers, including carers.

This is the key message to come out of most of this research – carers don’t necessarily need specialist employee benefits, what they really want is flexibility and support.

The author is Dawn Lewis, content editor at REBA.

Further reading

Employers for Carers has a range of research available on this topic covering issues including: carers and isolation in the workplace; the benefits to families, business and the economy; supporting employees who are caring for someone with dementia; and sandwich caring.

Breaking Point - the social care burden on women published by Age UK looks at the added pressures faced by women, who often become sandwich carers – looking after older relatives as well as their own dependent children.

The Work Foundation and Simplyhealth’s Helping employers support their working carers report.

CIPD’s and Westfield Health’s Creating an enabling future for carers in the workplace report.

The Family and Childcare Trust’s research: Holding on or moving up? Supporting carers and parents in employment.

Working Families and Bright Horizons Family Solution's The Modern Family Index 2020.

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