Katherine Wilson: Employers cannot afford to ignore working carers

Katherine Wilson - Carers UK - Employers for CarersThree million people in the UK combine working with caring for a disabled person, someone seriously ill or an older loved one, according to the 2011 census. Without the right support, the stress and pressure of juggling work and care can force people to leave their jobs.

People aged between 40 and 49 are the most likely to leave the workforce, or reduce their hours, to care. This is the time when many people are raising families, while their ageing parents are starting to need increasing levels of support.

This is also the age when many people are at the peak of their careers, meaning that leaving the workforce at this time can have a serious impact on future career prospects, lifetime earnings andĀ pensions. Thatā€™s not to mention the significant impact on business, which loses experienced, skilled workers and incurs greater costs, a growing concern in an increasingly competitive skills market.

SupportingĀ carers in the workplaceĀ makes good business sense. Small changes can lead to greater staff retention, less absence, improved performance and a healthier bottom line. Areas that employers should consider include updating HR policies to take into account wider caring issues, such as offering flexible working hours and care leave; supporting line managers to identify employees who have caring responsibilities, such as including information about caring in relevant manager training programmes and supporting materials such as toolkits; setting up a staff carers network to enable employees with caring responsibilities to support one another.

Employers could also let employees know about carer-friendly policies and practices through staff communications, and signpost employees to external information for further advice and support.

In the current economic climate, there has never been a more important time to retain skilled workers andĀ support employees to work healthily and productively. With the cost to businesses, if not addressed, of Ā£3.5 billion every year, according to Carers UKā€™sĀ Care Leave: impact on businessreport, published in July 2014, the issue of supporting people to manage work and care is one that none of us can afford to ignore.

Katherine Wilson is strategic manager at Employers for Carers, Carers UK