Employers could adapt flexible benefits to address rising eldercare demands

Adam Brooke 430

Employee Benefits Connect 2016: Employers could address rising eldercare demands by considering how flexible benefits could be adapted to extend to employees’ parents.

Speaking in a session titled ‘Eldercare: changing how we develop the benefits offering’ at Employee Benefits Connect on 9 March, Adam Brooke, international benefits manager at Standard Chartered Bank, explained that some benefits providers have already developed benefit offerings that cover employees’ parents, in the same way that certain benefits can include employees’ partners and children. Employers should challenge providers to see whether flexible benefit products and services can be adapted in some way to support those with eldercare responsibilities, said Brooke, for example, health and wellbeing benefits, financial planning support, funeral and will writing services, travel insurance, dental and eyecare.

Brooke (pictured) said: “Start challenging flex providers. Look at the benefits you already offer and think about whether they can be changed or adapted to include parents as well.”

The number of carers in the UK is expected to rise from 6 million to 9 million over the next 30 years so employers must consider the impact this will have on employee engagement, performance, and retention levels and take steps to support affected staff, said Brooke.

Employers should also be mindful of employees that may not class themselves as carers, such as those with short-term caring responsibilities.

Brooke said: “It is important to think about how we can engage with employees that don’t class themselves [as carers]; the stress is still there and the support is still needed, we just need to find a different way to start talking to those employees.”

Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are one line of support that employers can provide staff, but they must ensure that these are adequately promoted within the workplace, explained Brooke. EAPs could be highlighted to employees through presentations, monthly newsletters, the intranet, or wallet cards, for example.

Brooke said: “We can’t keep doing the same things we have done in years gone past. Things are changing, it’s time to take a step back and look at things afresh.”

Employee networks can also provide a valuable support mechanism for staff with caring responsibilities, and employers could help raise awareness of these by inviting external speakers to launch events. However, both EAPs and employee support groups must be integrated into employers’ wider health and wellbeing strategies if they are to be effective, warned Brooke.

Other forms of support could include flexible working policies, increasing awareness by marking events such as as National Carers Week, and by offering back-up eldercare support. The latter would function in a similar manner to emergency childcare, providing employees with peace of mind and also benefitting employers through increased employee engagement and a reduction in absences.

To control costs, employers could enable staff to convert a certain number of the days allotted to childcare to adult care, said Brooke. By repackaging benefits for carers, employers can help employees to see all of the support options available to them, as well as increasing awareness and engagement levels.

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Brooke added: “Eldercare responsibilities can affect any of us at any stage in our life. In the last two to three years we have seen a growing awareness of the need to provide benefits to support working carers generally.

“This issue is not going to go away, it is going to get worse year on year as we see the population continue to age.”