- The Carer’s Leave Act will provide employees caring for a dependent with a long-term care need with one week of flexible unpaid leave a year.
- Flexibility around job positions, hours and locations, as well as promoting this in job adverts, is crucial to help recruitment and retention.
- Employee assistance programmes, financial assistance and highlighting external and internal resources are good forms of support.
In May 2023, the Carer’s Leave Act received Royal Assent. Once in force, the government-backed bill will make one week of flexible unpaid leave per year a statutory entitlement for employees caring for a dependent with a long-term care need, enabling them to better balance caring and work responsibilities and remain in employment.
While this is a step in the right direction, there are other ways in which employers can both practically and emotionally support employees with full-time caring responsibilities.
Sign up to our newsletters
Receive news and guidance on a range of HR issues direct to your inbox
At a time when people are living longer, many employees are caring for older or seriously ill relatives while continuing to work. The need for employers to understand the challenges these workers face has become more critical, so access to reliable services, resources and advice will be vital.
Employers can provide paid leave and referral services for those searching for care, as well as financial assistance, says Ronan Harvey-Kelly, business lead at Seniorcare by Lottie. This could include a caregiving allowance to help cover additional costs, such as transportation, medical expenses or specialised equipment.
“If an employee cares for a loved one for at least 35 hours a week and they receive certain benefits, they can usually claim Carer’s Allowance,” he adds. “This is worth £76.76 per week, is usually paid every four weeks and can help those who may be struggling to support a loved one. Employers could raise awareness of this within their workplace alongside any specific carer policies.”
Flexibility around job positions, hours and locations is a good way in which employers can support full-time carer employees to stay in work. Promoting this in job adverts could also entice those who have left back into work.
Employers should make sure that options are openly discussed and employees are properly informed about what is available, explains Luke Price, senior research and policy manager for work at the Centre for Ageing Better.
“It’s important that employees can access flexible-working opportunities regardless of the reason they need them,” he says. “They shouldn’t have to justify why they need it. We welcome the government’s efforts to enshrine the right to request flexible working from day one of employment in law, but employers must go beyond this and ensure requests lead to meaningful changes in people’s working patterns where needed.”
By giving working carers the tools they need, employers can help to reduce stress and anxiety, while also increasing productivity, engagement and loyalty.
The increasing number of working carers who sacrifice their annual or sick leave to attend medical appointments or cover a breakdown in care should be of concern to employers, says Denise Priest, executive director Work and Family Solutions at Bright Horizons.
“Access to back-up care enables caregivers to fulfil both their caring and work responsibilities. Having a programme of this kind in place enables them to work on a day they would have otherwise not been able to,” she adds.
Caregiving support groups are another way to support employees who are struggling to open up about their responsibilities, as they provide a safe space to connect with others facing similar challenges.
Communicating available mental health support that provides guidance on managing stress also help to raise awareness within the workplace. “Employers may find it helpful to organise training sessions or workshops that equip employees with the necessary skills, steps and knowledge to provide or look for care,” says Harvey-Kelly. “For instance, they could run a training session on the importance of looking after yourself as a carer for a loved one, caregiving techniques and the process of searching for care.”
Employers can also highlight the benefits of an employee assistance programme, which offers lifestyle advice and clinical support, such as confidential counselling. Different employee resource groups or networks set up by staff can also help. Iain Brumpton, head of people at Zurich UK, says: “At Zurich, we have a women’s innovation network, an accessibility and inclusion network and a cultural awareness network. We also have an extensive network of mental health first aiders across the business who are on hand if staff need support or sign posting, plus ongoing events and webinars delivered by our wellbeing partners to support employees.”
Juggling care with work
By listening to employees’ experiences and responding accordingly, employers can develop an age-friendly workplace culture. Providing those with caring responsibilities with what they need to balance work and care is crucial.
Employers should above all maintain honest communication and ensure they are aware of available support, says Harvey-Kelly.
“Organisations need to create an open and positive atmosphere where employees can genuinely feel like they can share their worries about juggling their workload with additional care responsibilities,” he explains. “They should also have regular check-ins to ensure wellbeing hasn’t been affected and workloads aren’t too much.”
Employers can best help staff by raising awareness of the challenges they face as a carer and how the workplace can support them. If they are aware of existing policies and able to share their experiences, they are more likely to feel valued, supported and productive.