How many of Britain’s secret carers do you employ?

The issue of how we support people who are juggling caring responsibilities and work is firmly back on the agenda with the launch of the new Labour pledge last week. Liz Kendall MP, Shadow Minister for Care and Older People, has outlined Labour’s promises to provide more support for carers.

And the importance of an employer response is steadily rising up HR’s agenda. Over the past few months I’ve seen more HR events looking at how employers can better support carers. We can’t ignore the potential effects on our talent pools and the wellbeing of our people of not responding.

What’s really clear is that employers are often dealing with an unknown quantity. In short, we talk readily about childcare responsibilities, but people are less likely to disclose other caring responsibilities to their employer. In many organisations ‘secret carers’ are facing a constant juggling act but for one reason or another don’t ask for support perhaps not feeling confident in the response they may get or not knowing there is support on offer.

Our CIPD research found that only 1 in 6 employers had a policy that addresses caring responsibilities. This seems at odds with the reality of how this major workforce trend can affect employee engagement and productivity.

UK demographic trends mean more and more people are becoming carers, many overnight. We’ve got a growing ‘sandwich generation’ with people looking after young children at the same time as caring for older relatives, and it’s estimated that carers make up more than 12% of the UK workforce. So how can we care for the carer, helping them balance work and home demands more effectively?

Employers who are responding to this trend and helping people better manage their work and home responsibilities are reaping the benefits.

Flexibility is important as carers often work to finely tuned arrangements, but caring for an older relative can also be unpredictable. This could be as simple as moving working hours an hour later in the day to fit around the schedule of paid carers. Also being able to accompany your relative to a hospital appointment at short notice – do you offer dependent leave or the opportunity to move hours around? How confident and up-skilled do managers feel to deal with flexible working requests, especially since the extension of the right to request last year?

If you have a caring policy, do employees know about it? Do they know what other support you may offer, such as an employee assistance programme, financial advice line or counselling services that may be particularly valuable if people are experiencing financial or emotional strain? 

With an increasingly diverse workforce we need to be thinking about how we respond to their shifting needs. If we don’t make changes to the nature of work and help people better integrate their work and personal lives, they may have no choice but to drop out of work. Making simple adjustments can help your people perform at their best, focus on work when at work and reinforce your culture of being a good place to work.

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  • We have a flexible approach to help ease any pressure the carer may be experiencing. In addition to our Flexible Working policy, in line with UK legislation,  within our staff policy handbook we also have a Flexi-time policy which allows an individual to have up to 10 hours under in any month. They then have up to a 6 month period to make the adjustment of the deficit through discussions with their line manager.  This works well as employees are assured of a caring employer, this helps morale, team working and with staff retention.