Supporting carers at work is key priority - or risk an unmotivated workforce
The number of employees that are balancing worklife with caring responsibilities is growing, with 1 in 7 of the workforce, or 5 million of the population, identifying as carers. We can’t avoid the fact that the population is aging, and with 600 people having to give up work every day to care for a loved one it’s simply not sustainable for the future.
Employees with carers responsibilities have so much value to bring to businesses but balancing paid work with the stress of unpaid caring can have a significant, detrimental impact on someone’s wellbeing, with 71% reporting poor mental or physical health. Employers therefore have a duty of care to ensure employees with caring responsibilities for loved ones are supported and therefore engaged, or everybody loses out.
Here are five staple additions employers should introduce to support carers and ensure they are happy and motivated team members:
Inclusive social events
Let’s face it – as much as they may want it to be, a pub crawl may not be an ideal social for an employee with caring responsibilities throughout the night. As part of a more supportive company culture, try encouraging family-friendly events, such as family parties in the workplace or bring-your-relative-to-work days.
It’s still key for work socials to be fun and care-free – go karting, fitness classes and board game cafes are all great options where carers can truly leave their worries at home.
Holiday buy-back schemes
The idea of time as a precious commodity could not be more true for carers, who, since they often work double the hours as everyone else, will need more time to unwind than most. Holiday buy-back schemes are a good way to ensure they really switch off. Buying holiday days can be spread over the entire year, meaning it’s only a small cost out of each pay cheque.
A peer-to-peer support group
Chances are, if your organisation is medium sized to large, there will be a fair few carers working alongside you. But, since carers are not legally obliged to inform employers of caring responsibilities, you may not even know who they are. Establishing a carer support group, where carers can benefit from a safe space to share experiences, will make those employees feel much more supported in the workplace.
MPs recommended flexible working be a right for carers from ‘day one’, and for good reason, as a rigid 9-5 schedule can be restrictive for those with complex needs. If flexible working is compatible with your business model, it should be an offering but there are many forms this can take – it could involve working from home, term-time only working or just the choice of a different pattern to other workers.
‘Compressed hours’, where workers perform the same contracted hours over a fewer number of days, can be a lifeline for those who can outsource care elsewhere for some of the week. However, line managers will need to regularly check-in with workers on compressed patterns as longer days may lead to burnouts.
The law gives you a right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to see to family emergencies but doesn’t guarantee you’ll be paid for that leave. This can lead to crises for carers, who have to weigh up taking unpaid emergency time off with leaving their loved ones unsupported. Employers can give their carer employees peace of mind by offering an allowance of paid emergency leave days a year, which will give them a chance to get everything organised before returning to work.
JAMIE MACKENZIE, DIRECTOR AT SODEXO ENGAGE, COMMENTS:
“Work is crucial for maintaining financial wellbeing, and for building confidence and self-esteem. For carers, home life is often isolating, so it’s really important work feels like an escape, rather than just another chore.
“It’s a sad fact that more UK workers year on year are having to take on caring responsibilities, so there needs to be a fundamental shift in how our workplaces support those who do. Flexible working and emergency leave are important, but more creative benefits and access to support help carers feel much more valued and motivated when at work while still being able to provide adequate care for a loved one.”