There are an estimated 3.7 million carers in England and Wales and a growing number of people are having to juggle their jobs with caring responsibilities. So, how can organisations best support their staff and what are the benefits?
First, employers need to identify which of their employees are balancing caring responsibilities alongside work. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) research, Supporting working carers, published in June 2021, found around a quarter (28%) of working carers had not spoken to their employer about their responsibility, though the pandemic may have since given people more opportunities to disclose if they have any vulnerable people they care for.
Organisations should have a carer policy or guidance in place, so carers feel able to talk about their circumstances and know what support is available. It is also helpful to have a clear definition of what it means to be a carer. Bear in mind that not everyone identifies as a carer and might not think to raise the issue with their line manager.
Others might not feel comfortable sharing that information if they do not think they will be supported. By fostering an open and inclusive culture at work, people will feel able to talk about their responsibilities and the support they might need.
This goes hand in hand with ensuring there is a focus on employee wellbeing, and for working carers this could be through access to occupational health or an employee assistance programme.
From a practical perspective, employers should look at building in flexibility for working carers to make it easier for them to balance their responsibilities.
Flexible-working arrangements such as flexi-time, compressed hours, or part-time working can make a huge difference and be the first step to ensuring those with caring responsibilities have better control over their hours. Offering paid or unpaid carers leave is also an important consideration.
Speak to individuals about the arrangements and support that will best suit them. Carers themselves are often best placed to suggest what will be the most helpful solutions for them and their personal circumstances.
Line managers will often be the first port of call for carers needing support, so it is helpful for organisations to educate line managers on how they can support working carers. This should include holding regular one-to-ones, using positive language when talking about carers, and making adjustments to work patterns to support caring roles where possible.
Aside from being the right thing to do, employers who support those with caring responsibilities will likely see the gains from being able to attract and retain talent, as well as increased performance and more engaged staff.
Claire McCartney is senior policy adviser for resourcing and inclusion at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)