Are employers’ eldercare plans meeting staff needs?

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Need to know:

  • Around 600 people leave the workforce every day because they feel unable to balance work and care commitments.
  • A diverse range of eldercare products are available including information and care sourcing services, back-up care days and caregiver insurance.
  • Understanding, flexibility, and information are the top three factors that working carers want from their employers.

This year’s introduction of statutory carer’s leave highlights the needs of employees with caring responsibilities. But while a week’s unpaid leave will help, a wide range of eldercare benefits are now available for employers wanting to do more.

The 2021 Census found that there are 2.5 million unpaid carers in employment in England and Wales, and of those, 75% worry about juggling work and care, according to Carers UK’s report State of caring 2022 published in November 2022, with an average of 600 people leaving work every day, as reported in its Juggling work and unpaid care, published in February 2019.

An ageing population means the number of employees affected is set to grow, as Will Donnelly, co-founder of Lottie and Seniorcare by Lottie, explains: “By the end of 2024, more employees will have an elderly person dependent on them than a child. Eldercare support is fast becoming an important wellbeing benefit.”

Eldercare benefits

Although it is a relatively new addition to the employee benefits market, a diverse range of eldercare products are available. An employee assistance programme (EAP) can be a good starting point. Karl Bennett, wellbeing director at Vivup and chair of the Employee Assistance Programme Association (EAPA), says: “An EAP can provide practical advice around eldercare but also emotional support as this can cause anxiety and burnout.”

Eldercare-specific support is also available through providers such as Grace Consulting, Legal and General and Seniorcare by Lottie. These services can answer employees’ questions and help them find the best care option.

Some products also provide an element of financial assistance with care costs. As an example, Bright Horizons Back-Up Care gives employees a bank of back-up care days, typically between 10 and 15 days, to reduce the need to take time off.

Insurtech Yurtle recognises the importance of the caregiver, providing them with tools such as a care social network so they can update other carers and share tasks, emotional support, and back-up care sourcing. It also includes income protection style caregiver insurance. Antonio Ribeiro, founder of Yurtle, explains: “If someone is unable to care due to illness or accident, we’ll provide a daily amount of money, from day one, to help them arrange care.”

Further innovation is expected in this space too. Carl Chapman, head of marketplace at Ben, would like to see more products that help with the cost of care. “The eldercare market should be more like the childcare market,” he says. “Employees need a tangible and affordable solution that can help with the cost of care.”

Meeting employee needs

Benefits can help but employees often value additional support. Understanding is top of employees’ priority lists, followed by flexibility and information, says Katherine Wilson, head of employment at Carers UK. “It’s important that employees feel they can talk about caring in the workplace or they’ll worry it’s a personal issue,” she says. “Many people end up leaving work as they don’t feel they have a choice: often, just a little bit of flexibility can make all the difference.”

This flexibility is important because care needs vary hugely. While there may be emergencies, such as having to source a care home following a fall or providing extra support when regular carers are not available, there can also be times when it is much easier for employees to balance care and work.

Culture plays a huge part in ensuring working carers feel supported. Employees must feel psychologically safe, says Debra Clark, head of wellbeing at Towergate Health and Protection. “No one will ask for help if they’re worried it could harm their chances of promotion,” she says. “Since the pandemic, employees expect employers to be more understanding and supportive. It’s also made flexible and hybrid working more commonplace, which can be useful for working carers.”

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Employers should also encourage senior managers to talk about their caring experience or highlight when they need to take care leave, says Wilson. “Everyone understands childcare but eldercare be very unpredictable,” she explains. “A senior manager can help to normalise eldercare and model behaviour for other employees.”

Reaching this point, where caring for an elderly relative is seen on a par with bringing up a child, will help to build workplaces where employees feel able to balance, rather than juggle, their work and caring responsibilities.