June 6th marks the start of Carers Week the theme of which is ‘make caring visible, valued and supported’. With a growing number of employees now facing dual caring responsibilities, this is an important issue for staff and business alike.
With this in mind Cream HR director Anthony Sutton is asking the question what can businesses do to support carers in the workforce whilst also operating a successful business?
Millions of people in the UK (and globally) are facing an incredibly challenging time in their lives. Life expectancy has been growing for decades and the care of our elderly is therefore falling on offspring, who are generally of working age, and lasting for many years. When this is combined with the fact that people are now starting families later in life, the burden of caring for both children and parents is often falling at the same time. Those for whom this is affecting, known as the ‘sandwich generation’ are carrying huge pressures that can threaten to overwhelm them.
According to a new poll commissioned by leading UK employee benefits provider Unum, it is estimated that more than 6 million people in the UK workforce — over 1 in 5 workers — are juggling dual caring responsibilities for children and elderly relatives and these numbers are expected to grow.
For the majority of these people the challenges of looking after children, ageing parents and maintaining a job can cause untold pressure – financial burdens, time commitments, stress and worry.
With Carer’s Week approaching, and the challenges faced by this generation not expected to let up any time soon, it is vitally important that employers recognise the issues raised and find ways of supporting their employees, whilst also maintaining a successful business.
So what can businesses do to support carers in the workforce? Anthony Sutton says “as always is matters of people, communicate and be flexible.”
- Provide an open forum for employees to voice their concerns
- Reassure them that you understand their situation
- Be flexible with requests from employees to move their working hours to accommodate planned appointments or emergencies
- Consider benefits packages that include healthcare support for employees and their families
- Provide employees with access to wealth management or financial advice as the financial pressures can be a huge burden
- Inform employees about childcare support options such as tax-free childcare
- If employees run out of annual leave or other paid leave consider being more flexible around offering unpaid leave or working back hours at a later time
- If an employee needs quite a bit of time off, you could consider offering a sabbatical
- Consider fundraising/supporting/offering volunteering opportunities for a charity chosen by an employee e.g., a local hospice, children’s hospital etc to help your employee feel appreciated and understood at a difficult time for them.
Sutton says: “Whilst these steps won’t alleviate the dual caring responsibilities for your employee, they will undoubtedly help the employee feel supported and better able to manage the challenges they face. This should mean that they are able to concentrate better when they are at work and will enable them to re-engage with work properly when the time comes. Whilst caring for the team is important it is also vital that employers put contingencies in place to look after themselves.”
It can be hard for employers to lose employees to other commitments when they have a business to run and so whilst they should keep communicating and aiming to understand that unforeseen challenges might occur, it is also vital to set some realistic expectations. This could mean setting clear priorities and business critical deadlines for things that need to be completed by a certain time. Employers should also be aware that discrimination by association is illegal. This means that if an employee cares for someone with a disability then they will be protected by the Equality Act 2010, and any disciplinary action taken by the employer with regards to this may be unlawful.