How to support working carers in your organisation

Carers week, which lasted from 10th – 16th June, sought to raise awareness of the many issues currently facing around 7 million employees who balance work with unpaid care commitments. Following this, employers have been encouraged to provide more support to working carers on their payroll.

As with any workplace initiative, creating a policy on the matter will be key to affirming an employer’s approach to carers. Any policy 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 carers are familiar with this policy and the options that are available to them, therefore it would be wise to cover it during company inductions.

It is also important for employers to have open and honest communication with affected staff to understand their specific needs. Individuals can occasionally 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 should look to remain as up to date as possible on individuals’ ongoing caring commitments.

Employers should also consider how flexible working arrangements, such as reduced hours or a period of home working, can support those with care commitments. Currently, employees don’t become entitled to make a statutory request for flexible working until they have been in employment for 26 weeks, however, there have been calls to make flexible working requests a day one right for staff. Therefore, employers could pre-emptively choose to waive the current qualifying period to provide more support to working carers. Employees could also be more likely to request annual leave on short notice and employers may choose to build some flexibility into normal annual leave request procedures as a way of acknowledging employees’ situations.

It may also be an idea to agree to allow additional unpaid leave to those with care commitments on top of their annual leave allocation. Whilst employees have the right to statutory unpaid time off for dependants, this is reserved for short-term emergency situations and additional unpaid leave will give workers more ability to manage their care commitments.

Balancing work and care commitments can be a challenging experience and put a significant strain on employees’ physical and emotional wellbeing. As a result, employers should look at ways to prevent staff from experiencing burn-out or other forms of mental ill-health. Introducing an employee assistance programme (EAP) or a mental health first aider are likely to prove particularly useful measures, whilst line managers should also be trained in spotting the early signs of emotional distress.

In light of the challenges facing working carers, employers would do well to make their organisation as welcoming and supportive as possible. Carers represent a significant proportion of the UK workforce and failing to accommodate them could result in employers missing out on key talent.

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