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CIPD Podcast 156 - Hiding in plain sight: carers in the workplace

Date: 04/02/2020 | Duration: 00:17:53

There are currently 5 million workers in the UK (1 in 7 of the workforce) juggling work with care responsibilities. That number is set to increase. Working carers say their responsibility for another causes significant worry and anxiety, so much so, that it can feel like being a ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’. Employers should start developing an understanding and awareness of the issue, in order to provide the best support and retain valuable employees.

Join Katherine Wilson, Head of Employment, Carers UK and Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, CIPD as we explore the impact of caring responsibilities on workers and what measures employers can put in place to better support their working carers.

Nigel Cassidy: Is your place losing valuable people because needy relatives or friends just can't manage at home without care? Did you even know some workers juggle their caring secretly fearing that going public could damage their careers. I'm Nigel Cassidy and this is the CIPD podcast.

Hello, yes our hot topic this month balancing work and care. Why now? Well we’re heading into what’s been a forecast silver tsunami, when the tally of elderly will far exceed the number of family members available to care for them. Five million of us in the UK currently juggle work and caring responsibilities, that's about one in seven of the workforce. And it’s thought that nine million people may be needed within 30 years. So with fewer young people starting work it’s a no-brainer to have more of a care for the carers and enable them to stay on board in the workforce.

Well alongside me for this month’s podcast from the home team, Claire McCartney, the CIPD’s senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion.

Claire McCartney: Hello.

NC: And we’re delighted to welcome Katherine Wilson, head of employment for Carers UK, a national membership charity which is a support network and a movement for change.

Katherine Wilson: Good morning.

NC: Hello. So Katherine let’s start with you from Carers UK, let’s get a bit of a handle on the scale and nature of the problem. I guess people just suddenly become working carers without knowing that's going to happen?

KW: Yes very often that is the case. You can really become a carer overnight. So people talk about really facing a crisis where they just don't know where to turn for information or help.

NC: And of course the trouble is that sometimes those carers can't cope, they become non-working carers and it’s very difficult.

CM: That's right I think the figure is around one in six that have to actually leave the workforce because of their caring responsibilities so it’s really crucial that organisations are properly supporting working carers and not losing out on that valuable talent.

NC: Is it generally older people at work that find themselves in this situation?

KW: Well anyone can become a carer at any time but we know that the peak age for caring is usually around age 45 to 64, but having said that a lot of younger people are definitely now juggling work and care and particularly the so-called ‘sandwich generation’, people often aged say 40 to 50 who’ve got childcare responsibilities but also are looking after an elderly mum or dad as well.

NC: And there is a certain shame attached to being a carer, people do tend to not only hide it from their employers even from their colleagues.

CM: I think also the issue is that some carers don't necessarily identify themselves as a carer, so in some of the previous research that we’ve done people talk about just helping others, doing their duty, so actually it’s really important that organisations have a clear definition of what a working carer is in order to enable to help people open up about that and create a culture where people don't feel that there's a stigma attached to talking about being a carer in the workplace.

NC: So Katherine talk us through a typical situation when somebody becomes a carer, how does it impinge on their life at work?

KW: Well carers in our networks tell us that it feels like being a rabbit in the headlines, you know suddenly something happens like mum has a fall, dad has a heart attack, and your world is turned upside down and you just don't know where to go for help or information. You’re worried about your loved one and then you're worried about telling someone at work, you’re worried about how you’re going to keep working. So it can really affect people in that way but also it can sometimes creep up on you unawares and you just realise more and more that you’re taking responsibility for caring for an older relative.

NC: Now Claire McCartney I suppose we might reasonably say this is a problem for society but it does cost employers a lot of money, I think I read somewhere that unplanned absence is already costing employers over £8bn a year, I think that's taking into account the cost of bringing in other people to do the work that the carers can't do. So give us a sense of how this affects employers, at what point does the HR department get involved?

CM: So some of the practical issues as a result of people with working and caring responsibilities are that people struggle to juggle those responsibilities, so we might see more absence levels, we might see more people stressed in the workplace. So organisations really need to think about how they can respond to that and how they can get supportive relationships with line managers to spot those signs and think about what are some of the things we can do that would make a difference.

NC: Presumably people might take a leave, either if they can get short-term leave, or unplanned leave which creates problems.

CM: There's a legal right to time off for emergencies for dependents but beyond that carers will need more leave than that, so they might be taking their annual leave, which means that that will impact upon their well-being. There'll be other issues there as well, taking sick leave as well. So it’s really about spotting those signs and thinking what can we do as employers to prevent that and to promote people’s well-being.

NC: Katherine I was going to ask a bit more about this, what does the law essentially allow in terms of employment or other legislation if you are a carer and you need help?

KW: Well as Claire said there is the right to time off for dependents for emergencies, which is wider than for carers but can be really helpful. Of course carers can also benefit from the right to request flexible working, which is there for employees with 26 weeks service or more for their employer. If you're a parent having parental leave can really help, particularly if your child’s got a disability but also if you’re caring for say your mum or dad it gives you a bit more time to juggle time with your family as well.

And then the last right is probably less well known and it’s the protection really for unfair discrimination and harassment under the Equality Act, because as a carer you’re seen as being associated with someone who’s disabled or older because of your caring responsibilities. And that's often around unwitting discrimination where people just don't think that someone’s a carer.

NC: And Claire how clued up are companies on both the rights of their employees and then actually how they’re going to respond if somebody comes to the boss and says, ‘Look I've got a care problem here?’

CM: I think organisations are clued up on some of the legal issues that Katherine’s just outlined but I think the more overall support package that they can provide to carers, perhaps less so. So thinking about what combination of things like flexible working, flexible leave, will really help to support carers. So I think there's much more thinking that can go into the overall support package for working carers and actually calling out working carers in their policies as well.

NC: So Katherine is the law adequate at the moment? Are you calling for anything new in your campaigning?

KW: Well Carers UK has long been campaigning for the right to statutory carer’s leave, because there isn't any right at the moment dedicated to supporting carers. We did actually welcome the recent announcement in the Queen’s Speech by the Government that there is a commitment to bring forward proposals for carer’s leave, so we’re waiting to see the detail of that but we welcome the fact that it now does seem to be on the agenda and in our view we prefer it to be paid, but we think it’s a great step that it’s being introduced and discussed. And our Employers for Carers Forum which has been running now for well over ten years, many of our forward-looking employers are already offering paid carer’s leave to their staff.

CM: And also from the CIPD perspective it’s something that we’ve been calling for in our manifesto as well. So we’re calling for five days paid leave for carers and we really think that can help because we know that carers can be struggling financially. If they’ve had to reduce their hours that will impact upon them. Some will have to use their savings, have to borrow money indeed for some of their caring responsibilities. So there are financial struggles there that really need to be recognised so we’re very supportive of that.

NC: So Claire in terms of how employers up and down the country respond have you any sense of how many have policies and actually implement them?

CM: Yeah so our research from a couple of years ago showed us that around a quarter of employers have a carers policy and then around 8% have some kind of informal framework in place, but we know that around two fifths don't have a policy and at the time that we did the research they didn’t have any plans to put anything in place for working carers and that seems to be a big oversight considering all of the issues we’ve been talking about and particularly the aging population which means that carers are only going to grow in workforces.

NC: So Katherine Wilson what does a decent policy look like as far as how a company approaches people with caring issues?

KW: Well I think there's really three key elements are going to really make a difference. First of all understanding and awareness of the issue and how it can impact your staff and actually having the conversation, encouraging the conversation and visibility in the workplace. Secondly flexibility in all its shapes and forms; it’s not just about the formal right to request but all sorts of small flexibilities, ad hoc informal can really help make a difference. And I think thirdly information, being very clear, as Claire has said earlier, about calling out caring issues. So signposting staff to where policies can support them and signposting staff to how they can get help for external help for caring as well, information from organisations like Carers UK and others that can give support and help to carers.

NC: Are employers, the very senior managers, do you think they’re on board with all this? Have they actually grasped why this needs to be worked on?

CM: Well I think there are some really good exemplars out there and Katherine will be working with many of those that really get the caring agenda but as I said just a quarter have some kind of policy, so there's much more work that needs to be done. And I think it’s not just about having a policy in place, it’s about really embedding a culture of support and, for us, line manager support is really important there. So it’s about educating our line managers to have those sensitive conversations with their employees that have caring responsibilities so that they feel able to talk about that and thinking about what solutions work for them, whether it’s flexible leave, whether it’s flexible working, all the different things that could make a really big difference and help to support them in the workplace.

NC: Katherine you must hear stories from your carers about their encounters both with colleagues and with their managers when they try and get support or explain their issues? Have you got anything to say about how companies could handle caring questions better?

KW: Yes I think that's a really good point. We do have practical examples of where conversations have worked well and where they haven’t worked so well and I think again there's three key things that can really make a difference. A line manager who’s got a more flexible mindset, who is more open to having the conversation, particularly around flexibility and leave. Secondly a line manager who’s informed about how the organisation can support staff. And I think thirdly a line manager who’s reflective and responsive and not just reactive, you know very often it’s easier just to think no and just panic and not known how to answer, but if you can just have a bit of time and reflect how you might go some way towards meeting the carer’s needs then that can really help.

NC: Claire I wonder whether again those organisations that have been successful, that have worked on these policies, could teach us a bit more about how to actually make that happen?

CM: Yeah I think that's a really good point so I think organisations that are doing really well in this sphere should be talking and sharing those examples with other people. I think the Government perhaps could do more to share those examples, I know Carers UK are brilliant at sharing good practice examples but it’s really about giving people ideas, giving organisations ideas. And sometimes supporting working carers it’s not going to cost the earth, you may well have some of these policies in place, but it’s just bringing it together, highlighting that we’re talking about carers and pointing to the sources that would really make a difference to them that's going to help.

NC: Claire what about people in the workforce who are maybe younger, millennials we always talk about, who don't have people to care for might they resent because they don't quite understand people being allowed time off for something like that? Do you need to manage them as well?

CM: Potentially I mean I think colleagues’ reactions are really important in this and if you've got supportive colleagues then that's going to make a big difference. So that's the education piece, if we’re talking about carers at work, if we’ve got senior leaders that talk about their caring responsibilities, normalise the agenda, that's going to filter through to people that don't have these experiences. But we should perhaps be talking about this in education as well, this isn't something that gets talked about more generally in society and for younger people in education we know that there are a lot of young carers out there who will have their own issues, so it’s really important to raise these issues and talk about carers.

NC: And of course some people love their pets don't they and it might seem trivial but I did read that some young people were demanding ‘pawternity’ to look after their pets. I suppose they might feel they’re losing out if their employers cut slack only to older carers.

KW: Well firstly I don't think pets are trivial at all as a cat owner, I think it’s part of the family but I think these points are very important and going back to the issue about younger people what we found when we were talking to people in the workplace is that very often younger people can be really concerned about the impact of caring on their own parents, so for example people may say, ‘I'm really worried about my mum who’s 50-something and still working and her mum’s got dementia, so it’s my grandmother’s got dementia,’ but it’s affecting the wider family so the younger worker still feels the impact of that.

NC: So what’s the challenge for organisations here then?

CM: I think the challenge for organisations is if they’re not supporting working carers then they’re going to be missing out and actually this is something that is going to grow in size in the future so they really need to get on board. If they’re not supporting working carers then it’s going to impact upon their reputation and that's going to impact upon not only carers in their workforce but the broader workforce, potentially their customers and their clients as well and it will also lead to increased stress levels, absence and sickness, which is going to cause cost to a business but also there's a moral issue here, it’s the right thing to do and for us at the CIPD it’s about championing better work and working lives and this is a core part of that.

KW: I'm glad to hear that and I think businesses that have been addressing it have really found the benefits of doing that so they’re talking about enhanced retention of talent and skills in the workplace, better resilience of staff, better health and productivity through addressing this. And actually it’s also affecting better recruitment and helping return as well. So there’s the business benefits as well as it being the right thing to do.

NC: I just wonder if you could actually test how robust your organisation was going to be if there was a rush of new carers coming into the workforce?

KW: Caring is a very large, if often hidden, issue, so the chances are you've got a lot of carers already who may not be recognising themselves as carers, it’s different from being a parent isn't it, you know a lot of us just don't see ourselves as a carer, we’re just a daughter, son, partner, mum or dad, looking after our loved ones. And often it’s not a choice it just happens to you so it’s really hard to see yourself as a carer.

NC: Like so many things it’s about getting to know your people.

CM: It’s about getting to know your people. It’s about line managers having really good relationships with their team so that they feel that they can talk about sensitive issues. And it’s about creating that culture. So there's lots of things organisations can be doing to prepare for that, and as Katherine says they will already have lots of working carers within their workforce anyway.

NC: And both of you if people want to find out more about this topic?

CM: So the CIPD have got new research coming out and guidance on this and we’ve been working with Sheffield University and part of an ESRC funded piece of work around sustainable care, which Carers UK have fed into and that will be launched in the next few months, so do watch out for that.

NC: And lots of resources on the Carers UK website.

KW: Yes that's carersuk.org and also our employersforcarers.org site has also got examples of good practice and what our employers are doing as well.

NC: So our conclusion here: there's never been a more important time to focus on helping skilled workers who are also carers, maybe prevent them needing to walk out of the door, better that than incurring the costs of recruiting and training replacements. And we should remember, as always there's policies and reality, organisations can have caring plans all over the place but if workers don't believe they’ll get help then they’ll just remain under the radar and one day they’ll leave.

Well let me just thank our two brilliant and eloquent guests on this topic Claire McCartney, CIPD’s senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion, and Katherine Wilson, head of employment for Carers UK.

By the way it was great to get your comments on last month’s podcast on workplace life in 2020, in particular you did seem to home in our contributor David D’Souza’s comment on the business risks of not addressing diversity and inclusion issues in 2020, he’d said ‘It’s time to make people feel more uncomfortable about things stand.’ Well one listener, Dr Ann, commented on LinkedIn, ‘I couldn’t have said it better.’ Well that's very nice we can take criticism too so keep your comments coming.

Join us next month as we delve into the world of organisational design and development, exploring what the current state of play looks like and what could be just on the horizon. But now from me Nigel Cassidy and all at the CIPD until next time it’s goodbye.

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