Celebrate Carers Rights Day by raising awareness now

Carers Rights Day on 24 November is an important opportunity to raise awareness to recognise and support the role of carers in UK workplaces. Often, caring is a hidden responsibility but the latest State of Caring report by Carers UK estimates that 3 million people work and care in the UK – 1 in 9 in every workplace and this figure is set to increase. Therefore, the issue of balancing work and care responsibilities is a significant for all organisations. This point is underlined by another finding from the Carers UK report which says many face no choice but to give up work altogether due to factors such as a lack of flexibility; it quite rightly concludes that ‘carers need to be supported so that they are able to juggle work and care and to enable them to return to work if they wish.

Demographic change means that many of us are juggling more complex family lives with increasingly demanding working lives. With an ageing population and people living longer, many employees are finding themselves part of the ‘sandwich generation’ – balancing working commitments with caring for older family members while still looking after their own children. We know from research carried out by the CIPD that caring not only impacts on employees’ working lives, but can also affect employers through rising levels of absence and labour turnover. The onus is therefore on employers to create and promote policies and initiatives in the workplace that empower working carers, sending employees a clear message that their organisation will support them.

However, many organisations have a long way to go to provide a supportive framework for working carers that pays attention to a number of factors that can make a difference. A poll of 345 HR professionals we carried out this month finds that just 10% of organisations provide training for line managers to help them support working carers. Further findings from the CIPD/Westfield Health Creating an enabling future for carers in the workplace report published in 2016 also found that:

  • just 20% of employers measure how many of their employees have caring responsibilities
  • a quarter (26%) of employers have a formal written policy and 8% have an informal, verbal policy aimed at the needs of carers, but 38% don’t have a policy or plans to develop one.

Culture is key

Measurement is key to supporting working carers – without it, employers cannot know how many working carers they have and what the most appropriate policies, tools and support might be. At the same time, employers need to be mindful that not everyone categorises themselves as a ‘carer’ even if they have responsibility for looking after someone or arranging care. A culture that is open and supportive of carers will help people feel able to speak about their situation should they choose to. Line manager training is also crucial, as managers are often the first port of call for employees needing support; they need to understand the context in which working carers are operating, and have the tools and the confidence to help them develop their skills and progress in their careers.

On a positive note, our research also shows that almost half (45%) of employers think the steps their organisation has taken to support carers have made a positive difference to their organisation’s culture (this rises to 66% who have a policy aimed at the needs of carers). This underlines the business case for organisations to take action in this area.

Act on the business case

We can see that many employers understand the business case for supporting working carers, and how it can positively impact retention, engagement and reduce absenteeism, all of which will bring big business benefits in the long term. Employers need to see working carers as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, and listening and understanding what they need from their employer is important. Although official policies for working carers will help to legitimise their place in the labour market, they need not be prescriptive and should focus on empowering individuals.

Our recommendations for organisations include the need to:

  • create and promote a broad working carers’ policy covering the organisational support available to carers, to help create and nurture a culture that is inclusive and supportive of working carers
  • develop and implement the right tools and support to empower working carers, including:
    • active promotion of a flexible working policy that is responsive to the needs of people with caring responsibilities
    • attractive working situations that take into account people’s caring responsibilities and enable them to stay in work
    • guidance and/or a section of the intranet where working carers can be signposted to external sources of support, including financial information

  • train line managers so that they understand the demands that working carers experience and are aware of the support available to them.

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