There are 3 million working carers in the UK, one in every 9 employees (1) with 32% of full time carers providing 50 hours or more of care per week (2). Many carers in organisations are unknown to their employers but it is likely that if you aren’t one, you will have a colleague who is, or you may manage one in your team.
The circumstances around caring roles are wide and varied. Carers UK have developed the following definition for organisations to use as a best practice example; “Carers are employees with significant caring responsibilities that have a substantial impact on their working lives. These employees are responsible for the care and support of relatives or friends who are older, disabled or seriously ill who are unable to care for themselves” (3).
Many carers take it for granted that they are supporting people they care about and may not recognise that they are a carer as their responsibilities are hugely diverse. Examples include emotional support to a relative with mental health issues, supporting children with special educational needs to ensure they have an appropriate diagnosis and ongoing support, helping a relative with personal care tasks and managing medication, or taking on extra housework and financial paperwork for elderly parents.
Unsurprisingly the impact on carers can be huge, both emotionally and physically. Yet many employees find it hard to talk to their managers or colleagues about caring responsibilities, or if they do are often met with a lack of understanding and support, sometimes resulting in a breakdown in the relationship and the employee subsequently leaving. Support can be straightforward and the benefits to both employee and organisation are huge; increased productivity, retention of key talent, increased morale and motivation, improved health and less stress for the employee. As Ian Peters, CEO of Employers for Carers highlights; “I am sure that you’ll agree with me when I say that your people are your biggest asset and that if you look after them, they will look after your customers and your business”.
Here we offer some top tips for those who are either caring or employing carers to ensure the best possible working relationships and outcomes.
First some facts which are always useful for those who are having difficult conversations at work. Knowing these also helps to avoid ambiguity and helps to set clear expectations.
Carers have legal rights to ensure that they are being supported. These include;
- the right for all employees to request flexible working if they have been employed for 26 weeks’ continuous service (4),
- a reasonable amount of time off to deal with emergency situations involving dependants (5),
- the right to take up to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave if you have worked for the employer for 12 months (6). This is not the same as shared parental leave.
- protection against “discrimination by association” where for example, employees who care for a disabled family member are protected against being treated unfavourably (7).
Many organisations have additional contractual policies such as compassionate leave, buying more holiday/annual leave or career breaks. Some organisations have a specific carers policy in place which is also helpful to identify that those who are carers have different responsibilities to employees with childcare issues.
Employers and Managers
- Your working relationship with carers may have a different ‘give and take’ dynamic than that of other employees. This may be in terms of hours worked (eg. flexible working) where they are working (eg. from home) or when they are working (eg. making up hours later on).
- What support do you need as a manager? Does your organisation have a carers policy to help you identify your team member’s needs? If not talk to HR to understand what statutory or contractual policies are in place. What other creative solutions can you offer to help?
- Take flexible working requests seriously. Good will and support shown by an organisation are a huge factor in employee loyalty and retaining talent.
- Allow the employee to discuss their caring responsibilities if they wish to. You may be surprised by what they are dealing with outside the workplace. Carers are typically liaising with agencies, completing lengthy and time-consuming paperwork, advocating for a dependent, getting to grips with new and complex legal procedures – all on top of their day job, and often while managing a family too.
- What other support could be made available that is applicable to them and their particular role? Ask them what would be the one thing that would make a huge positive difference to their working day? Some solutions by other companies include:
- Allowing personal mobile phones to stay switched on during meetings in case of emergencies
- Setting meeting times which are convenient for carers.
- Ensuring the employee has someone within the organisation they can talk to if they would like that support.
- A reserved car park space so that leaving work in an emergency is quicker.
- Agreeing to working from home at short notice.
- Flexible start and/or finish times.
- Providing private space inside the office building to make personal phone calls.
- Find out if your organisation has a carers policy which will outline their policies, procedures and support for employees who are carers.
- Talk to your manager about your caring responsibilities if you are happy to do so. It is in their interests to make reasonable adjustments to help and support you. If you don’t wish to disclose your caring role to your line manager, your HR department will be able to offer advice on how to proceed and highlight options available through policies such as flexible working. Some organisations also have private contracts with counselling organisations to support staff.
- Find positivity regarding the skills you develop as a carer. Many with caring responsibilities are excellent advocates, negotiators, experts at time management, managing other people eg. due to agency care, and are very resilient. These skills are holistic and easily transferrable to the workplace.
- Find organisations and support forums and connect to others in similar situations. Some of the national charities will provide support. Carers UK has a huge amount of information and resources to support carers in their dual roles. ACAS provide employment related advice.
- Carers assessments offer a way to obtain support from local councils or trusts. Or, look at private organisations who can help by taking on some of the tasks you are juggling.
Help and support:
ACAS – www.acas.org.uk
Carers UK – www.carersuk.org and www.employersforcarers.org
Carers Trust – www.carers.org
Age UK – www.ageuk.org.uk
Mind – www.mind.org.uk
Alzheimers Society = www.alzheimers.org.uk
IPSEA (Special Educational Needs support) – www.ipsea.org
(1) Employers for Carers
(2) State of Caring Report 2018, Carers UK
(3) Employers for Carers (Carers UK)
(4) Children and Families Act 2014
(5) Employment Rights Act 1996
(6) Maternity and Parental Leave (Amendment) Regulations 2014
(7) The Equality Act 2010