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07 Nov 2018
by David Palman

The ongoing battle with eldercare

A few months ago, after seeing Simplyhealth’s research in this area, we asked how we can improve the situation for carers within the workplace. Having highlighted the problems facing employees and employers, we wanted to take a more in-depth look at the specific circumstances surrounding eldercare, and how employers can take steps to improve this already-difficult journey.

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How is this impacting your employees?

Employees with caring responsibilities face a daily struggle as they find themselves torn between their obligations at work and their commitment to those they care for. At work, they may be unfocussed; their mind wandering to their parent or loved one – are they safe? Are they eating and drinking? Have they taken their medication? What if they’ve had a fall?

Then when they are with those they look after, worries about work set in. They may worry about how far behind they are, impending deadlines, what their colleagues think about them, or whether their job is under threat.

The stress, isolation and distractions of full-time work and full-time caring can have a significant impact on an employee’s mental health, and their ability to complete tasks to the expected standard.

A survey conducted by HPI on Simplyhealth’s behalf, showed that 64 per cent of working carers lose up to two hours a week on phone calls related to their dependent, with 46 per cent spending a similar amount of time searching for options online – Eldercare Research (2016). The same research revealed that one in five unpaid carers leave their full-time job because of caring responsibilities.

What does this mean for employers?

As an employer, you may be unaware of the problems around eldercare that your employees are facing. According to the Everyday Health Tracker Survey (2017), 45 per cent of full-time workers and 67 per cent of part-time workers with caring responsibilities say their work life is negatively affected. As employers, it is our responsibility to provide more support to employees who are also carers.

The first challenge is to identify which parts of your workforce are struggling. Employees often keep their caring responsibilities quiet for fear of a perceived lack of commitment to their job. Absences may be interpreted as a sign of poor attitude, but it could be for a multitude of reasons – from emergency medical situations to simple day-to-day problems and genuine employee sickness.

For some, the strain, pressure and guilt become too much, and the employee has to give up work to concentrate full-time on their caring responsibilities. The overwhelming duties of home battling with a heavy workload can mean you lose hard-working employees with valuable skillsets.

Relieving the strain on the NHS

The Care Quality Commission’s The state of health care and adult social care in England (2016/17) report described our health and social care system as “straining at the seams”. There’s a wider responsibility for employers, from a Corporate Social Responsibility perspective, to better support these struggling systems. From an employer’s perspective, there are a number of health-related benefits that could be offered to employees, either on a paid or voluntary basis.

This could be a private medical scheme, giving employees access to prompt medical treatment when they need it most – be that for a one-off operation or managing a chronic condition. It could be an annual health screening to check that your employees are well and to check for the signs of more serious illness. Alternatively, a healthcare cash plan gives employees the option to claim back the costs on a variety of health-related activities, from bi-annual dental check-ups to stress-relieving massages.

That said, it’s not all about benefits. The burden on employees can be alleviated by changing practices, attitudes and views of acceptability from the top down.

Where can we find a solution?

Although there is a lot of scope for improvement, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. No one product is going to solve the variety of complex problems and challenges, and it’s much wider than simply plugging a benefits gap.

Solutions need to be driven at a policy and process level. Many employers will operate a flexible working policy and have compassionate leave in place, but what about setting up a specific, named, eldercare policy? One that sits alongside other policies such as childcare or parental leave, elevating it to the same level of importance and significance within the company. One that encourages employees to speak about the challenges they’re facing; knowing their employer will support them and help balance their home/work responsibilities.

Setting up internal support tools, such as groups for carers to talk with each other, get advice and reduce feelings of loneliness can be the crucial difference between losing an employee and helping them. Some benefit providers offer technology that can aid support tools such as talking groups and eldercare plans. This could include support tools, such as talking groups and digital forums, such as Simplyhealth’s Care Community.

By utilising technology, employers can reach a wider audience – where face-to-face presentations may only reach a physical audience of 10–20 people, when recorded and hosted through an online portal, employees can access these resources when and where they need them. Some platforms also allow you to send emails with embedded videos to target specific employees who may find the resource helpful. Focussed, behaviour-driven and relevant content can finally reach those who need it most.

Final thoughts

While the challenges of eldercare continue to grow, so do the opportunities to support your employees and their families. By using workplace technology which is tailored to the individual, you can support employees when they need it, how they need it; meaning employees can focus on work at work, and home at home.

The author is David Palman, senior consultant at Benefex.

This article was provided by Benefex.

Benefex is sponsoring REBA’s Innovation Day, taking place on 22 November at County Hall, London.

In partnership with Benefex

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