Carer friendly: time for employers to wake up?

Over the years we have written extensively on the subject of working parents and childcare on this blog. For this we make no apology, as this topic is often under-reported and the impact on employer and employee alike is often not fully appreciated. For more on this topic please see this blog post from earlier this year.

Yet the role of carer does of course extend beyond that of childcare responsibilities alone. There are legions of UK workers who currently act as carers for elderly, sick, or disabled relatives and friends in addition to their paid employment. Given that recently it was National Carers’ Week, now seems like a good time to look at this important topic.

This year Carers’ Week is concentrating on promoting and building “carer friendly” communities.  And one such community for working carers is likely to be that of their employment.

So what does the Building Carer Friendly Communities report say in relation to caring and employment?

Firstly, the report highlights that across the UK 6.5 million people are caring unpaid, and that during our lifetime around 3 in 5 of us will be carers at some point. Startling figures that drive home the reality that many employees may also be acting as carers in their own time. So how do carers perceive the attitude and support from employers around their caring duties and responsibilities?

The report highlighted three key barriers to balancing work and care:

  • 38% of respondents did not feel comfortable talking about caring at work
  • 35% felt their employer doesn’t understand their caring role
  • 33% of employers do not have policies in place to support carers

This lack of empathy can be stressful for the employee, and may impact their health, finances and wellbeing. And this in turn can have a negative impact on engagement and productivity as well. Other items* that are of particular interest are:

  • Two-thirds (66%) of carers surveyed felt they had no option but to give up work or reduce their hours
  • 4 in 10 (41%) carers said their work had suffered
  • 28% of carers reported not pursuing or turning down a promotion in order to be able to care

Any or all of the above three points should ring alarm bells with employers, and HR professionals in particular. The reality is that this is an often under-discussed topic that many more employers should be actively considering, and the report outlines some steps that can be taken by employers to make the workplace more carer-friendly (with proper consideration of flexible working requests a particular key).

From an employee benefits perspective the options are currently rather limited. Childcare Vouchers and Tax Free Childcare (TFC) are of course restricted to childcare alone (although it should be noted the maximum level of state support under TFC increases greatly for disabled children which is a help). As yet there is little political pressure being applied to introduce a similar system for other carers, but this will hopefully come in time.

That said, a more active promotion of Healthcare policies, Employee Assistance Plans (EAP), and Financial Education in the workplace are likely to be beneficial and welcomed by carer-employees. Should you require further information on any of these areas please speak to your usual Jelf consultant in the first instance.

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We will of course continue to monitor this topic and will update our followers with any new initiatives as they become known.

For the full original article and other similar posts, please visit the Jelf Group blog.