How can employers measure the effectiveness of support for working carers?

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Need to know:

  • The pandemic has highlighted the pressures on working carers, and the value of offering workplace support.
  • Paid or unpaid care leave, flexible working or flexitime and having access to private time or space to make calls are among the benefits working carers value the most.
  • Flexibility is key, as is ensuring support is regularly reviewed and that employers take the lead from, and speak regularly to, working carers themselves.

The experience of living, and working, through a pandemic has led to an acceleration in the support offered by employers to working carers, the Carers UK study, Supporting working carers in Covid-19: Recovery and return published in November 2021, highlighted.

The number of carers’ networks within workplaces had almost doubled in a year, up from 44% to 73%, six out of 10 employers (63%) were now offering flexible working and flexible leave arrangements, the research with Centrica concluded, and a similar percentage (62%) were offering additional leave arrangements, from 42% previously.

To an extent, this sea-change is perhaps unsurprising, given the spotlight the pandemic has thrown on juggling caring responsibilities day to day, points out Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser, resourcing and inclusion at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

“People have had to talk about their caring responsibilities more or if, say, they have vulnerable members within their household or neighbours or people they look after,” she says.

But what is the best type of support employers can offer working carers? Paid or unpaid care leave, flexible working or flexitime and having access to private time or space to make calls if needed were all among the most popular benefits identified in the CIPD’s Supporting working carers report last year, with the University of Sheffield, McCartney highlights.

Assess employees’ requirements

When it comes to gauging needs and requirements, the first thing, often, is simply working to identify who within your organisation is juggling caring responsibilities. “Do [employers] create a supportive culture and encourage carers to talk about the support they might need? Often, carers themselves will best placed to suggest the things that will make a difference to them,” McCartney advises.

The sheer variety of support working carers will need – everything from caring for a school-age child with long Covid through to an elderly dependent with dementia – means providing a one-size-fits-all working carer ‘package’ may become inflexible. Conversely, expecting line managers to have the time and skill to deliver tailored support for every team member is probably unrealistic, cautions Christine Husbands, managing director of RedArc.

“An alternative is to look for some form of benefit hub that can sort out what is best needed for whom. If [employers] can have a single hub where employees can get access to lots of different things, and then be helped to understand which service is likely to be most relevant and useful to them, [they] can see how things fit together,” she says.

There are now specialist care ‘concierge’ services that may be able to help, highlights Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health and Protection.

“They can offer a telephone or video call service, often around eldercare services or special needs, that can help people to understand what care options are available to them, legal issues or, if they need to think about longer-term care, how they might pay for it. It is helping people to navigate services that are already there but which they may not know about or have challenges in accessing,” she says.

Employers also need to be making sure they use everything at their disposal, for example the bolt-on tools and resources that can come with an employee assistance programme or group risk or healthcare products, says Katharine Moxham of the group risk body, Group Risk Development (Grid). “Simply point staff in the right direction and communicate little and often so people remember,” she adds.

Measure effectiveness

Finally, when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of the support you are providing, McCartney recommends using feedback from any carers’ network you have, encouraging line managers to hold regular review meetings, looking at absence metrics, for example if people are taking absence, or even holiday, to cover caring, and monitoring exit interviews if someone is having to leave because of their caring responsibilities.

“[Employers] should continually review the situation. Having some sort of survey or poll vehicle, or pulse surveys, also helps. Look at engagement and satisfaction scores, too,” she adds.