Caring for an older, seriously ill or disabled family member or friend will have an impact on most of us at some point – and more often than not during our working lives.
Already there are three million working carers in the UK, one in nine in any workplace and with our ageing population and workforce, this number is set to soar. So what does this mean for employers?
As we know at Employers for Carers, the key impact on businesses, if carers are unsupported, is loss of skills, talent and productivity in the workplace. People aged between 40 and 49 are the most likely to leave the workforce or reduce their hours to care. This is the time when many are raising families just as their ageing parents are starting to need increasing levels of support. Yet this ‘squeezed middle’ - or ‘sandwich’ - generation often includes the most skilled, highly trained and experienced employees in any workplace.
So, how are employers responding to this growing workforce challenge?
While only 9 per cent of organisations currently include eldercare support in their reward packages, caring is rising up the workplace agenda. Here are ten tips for making it happen based on insights from engaged employers:
- Review HR policies or, if you are a smaller organisation without formal policies, your workplace practices, to take account of caring issues as well as childcare
- Update policies (and practices) to ensure that caring is included in flexible working and special leave arrangements. If you are a larger employer with formal policies, consider introducing a specific carers policy or guidance
- Support line managers to identify employees who have caring responsibilities, such as including caring in relevant training programmes and supporting toolkits
- Raise awareness among managers and staff about the policies and practices that your organisation has in place to support carers
- Signpost colleagues to workplace and external support (e.g. advice and information services such as Carers UK) through the staff intranet, bulletins and noticeboards etc.
- Set up and support a staff carers network to enable employees with caring responsibilities to help one another
- Identify a senior workplace champion (and champions at other levels) to help promote awareness and support of carers among managers and staff
- Use annual national events such as Carers Week and Carers Rights Day to raise awareness of caring and where carers can get support inside and outside the workplace
- Include caring issues and carers within wider workplace diversity and inclusion and health and wellbeing initiatives to help embed support
- Offer a health and wellbeing scheme or (if you are a larger employer) an Employee Assistance Programme to provide practical support on eldercare, as well as for childcare
Combining work and caring is a reality issue none of us – employees, employers or the wider economy - can afford to ignore. While this may be an evolution rather than a revolution in the workplace, eldercare is certainly an issue which is here to stay.
Author bio: Katherine Wilson is Head of Carers UK’s business forum Employers for Carers (EfC). Supported by the specialist knowledge of Carers UK and steered by a leadership group of employers, EfC works to ensure organisations have the right assistance and knowledge to help them retain and support employees with caring responsibilities.