Proposals made by the Work and Pensions Committee have called on the Government to improve protections for the significant number of individuals who routinely juggle paid work with unpaid care responsibilities. Whilst the Government plan to explore several options, including an additional five days paid leave allowance for carers, employers may be asking themselves what steps they can take in the meantime to support to working carers in their organisation.
As with any workplace initiative, creating a policy on the matter is key to establishing an organisation’s approach to carers. Successful policies should confirm an employer’s commitment to supporting staff in managing their combined responsibilities, as well as to protect them from suffering any discrimination as a result. It is important that staff are familiar with this policy and the options that are available to them, therefore employers will benefit from covering it during company inductions.
It is also important for employers to have open and honest communication with affected staff to understand their specific needs. Employees can sometimes be reluctant to disclose their care responsibilities due to concerns that their commitment to work will be questioned, however employers should try to maintain a regular dialogue to ensure staff feel supported. Line managers often play an integral role here as a first point of contact and may encourage eligible individuals to explore the option of a free carer’s assessment with their local social care department, as they may be entitled to a carer’s allowance.
Employers should also consider how flexible working arrangements, such as reduced hours or a period of home working, can support those with care commitments. Interestingly, one of the proposals currently under consideration by the government is to make flexible working requests a day one right for staff. Therefore, employers could pre-emptively choose to waive the current 26 week qualifying period for making requests to provide more support to working carers. Although flexible working requests can be refused as long as there is a genuine business reason, conscientious employers may choose to give greater consideration to requests that come from working carers as a way of acknowledging their situation.
For many the act of balancing work and care commitments can be an emotionally challenging experience. Therefore, employers should look to support staff wherever possible to prevent instances of burnout or mental ill health. Introducing an employee assistance programme (EAP), which will give staff 24/7 access to a host of self-help materials and counselling services, would be particularly useful in these circumstances. Additionally, employers could consider appointing a mental health first aider within the organisation who staff can approach for additional help. Employers should also consider working closely with charities that cater specifically to the needs of working carers, using their insights to create an environment that allows staff to thrive.
Given the challenges facing working carers, employers would do well to make their organisation as welcoming and supportive as possible. Whilst mental health support and flexible working provisions are an important step, to properly support carers employers must be prepared to listen carefully and act accordingly. This will ensure staff are truly supported and ultimately lead to a more positive and successful working environment.