Guest Blog by Shakira Joyner of HCHR
As BBC Wales has reported today that nearly 200 carers in Wales have had to give up their jobs to look after family. Carers represent a significant part of the working age population, both in the workplace, and in the wider labour market. They are likely to represent 1 in 8 of your workforce as well being a valuable source of recruitment.
Losing carers from the workforce is not only damaging to individuals and their families, but also damaging to employers and the wider economy. As the population ages, and the number of carers rises, the effects of losing carers from the workforce will grow.
An employee might have been caring for a long time or find themselves faced with new caring responsibilities without much warning or time for preparation. Either way, the difficulty of managing the dual pressures of work and home life can be hard to bear. Without support, carers may suffer from stress, exhaustion and might not perform as productively as they potentially are able to. Some feel driven to give up work because it simply becomes too much.
Benefits of Supporting Carers in the Workplace
Supporting carers to manage the difficult job of balancing work with caring responsibilities can deliver real benefits to employers as well as helping individuals and their families. These benefits including the retention of experienced staff members, a reduction in absence and cutting down on avoidable recruitment costs.
What’s more, supportive and flexible working practices can reduce staff turnover and increase loyalty and commitment. Unfortunately, many carers give up work because the job of juggling their work and caring responsibilities simply becomes too much, and they get little or no support from their employer.
By fostering an environment where every member of staff feels supported and comfortable in the workplace is good employment practice. An organisation that has ‘carer friendly’ policies and working practices will also help to reduce levels of stress and sickness absence as well as increasing staff morale and productivity levels. As an employer with these policies in place, you will also have access to a wider pool of potential employees with skills and experience.
What employers can do to support carers
There are a range of measures employers can take to provide a supportive working environment for carers in their workforce. These don’t necessarily need to represent a major change in how an organisation operates, and can sometimes be a small and simple adjustment, but one which makes a significant difference to how supported carers feel at work.
The identification of carers, and understanding of their circumstances is a key starting point for employers and should be central to how support is developed within an organisation, ideally based on regular consultation. There are a number of ways that employers can learn which of their employees are also carers. Depending on the size and structure of their organisation this might be through the establishment of a ‘carers register’, or via staff induction, appraisals or employee surveys. Having a clear definition of what it means to be a carer is important in whatever approach is taken; many people do not identify themselves as carers and may not think to raise the issue with their line manager in the first place.
A workplace should have a supporting and comfortable environment where there is no stigma attached to carers identifying themselves. However, the choice of carers to self-identify themselves should still be respected, understanding that some people may not want to disclose their situation.
It is important that carers are recognised as a distinct group within an organisation’s policies and procedures. This might be via a dedicated ‘carers policy’ or with specific mention made of carers within existing HR policies.
A policy would state the range of support provided to carers within an organisation and the procedures for accessing this provision. These could include the provisions for carers leave or other special leave arrangements, such as paid or unpaid emergency leave; compassionate leave; matched leave and borrowed leave. Additionally, employers can offer flexible working options and/or other forms of workplace support. Depending on the organisation’s policy, a mix of solutions can be used to respond to a particular situation such as flexible working in conjunction with some paid/unpaid time off/special leave for example.
It is important that options are fully discussed and considered from both the employer and employee’s perspectives. Flexibility, fairness, communication and co-operation are important on all sides, between carers, their colleagues, and their managers.
Other Areas of Support
Sometimes, supporting carers in the workplace is not just about changing the hours that they work. There are practical, and often very small changes that can make a difference too. These can include allowing carers to keep their mobile phones on or providing private access to a telephone; signposting to external support and services. You could also consider stablishing a workplace support group for carers, and involving carers in other health and well-being programmes at work.
More than anything, establishing and embedding a culture of support within an organisation will be key in ensuring that carers feel comfortable in the workplace and able to raise with their line managers any issues they might be experiencing with managing their work and caring responsibilities.
Organisations can have very good policies and practical support on paper, but if these are not known throughout the workplace, or consistently applied by line managers, then they can sometimes be of little benefit to carers.
Good communication of carer policies and procedures is essential to getting this right. This can be achieved on a number of levels, from the provision of basic information via staff induction processes, payslip messages, organisation intranet, staff message boards etc, to wider workplace awareness raising sessions involving colleagues and managers.
Line manager training is especially important in ensuring that an organisation is treating carers fairly across all departments or sections, and in providing a consistent approach when a manager leaves and is replaced by someone new.
Developing Carer Friendly Policies
If you’re an employer who is looking to support carers in the workplace, the chances are that you don’t yet have a set of carer friendly policies.
The team at HCHR can help with the development of these policies along with other advice and guidelines on how to support carers in the workplace.