Katherine Wilson: Should employers encourage a four-day week to increase productivity?

Katherine Wilson

According to the 2011 census, three million people in the UK combine working with caring for a disabled, seriously ill or older relative or friend. Without the right support, the stress and pressure of juggling work and care can force people to leave their jobs. Indeed, two million people have given up work to care, and three million have reduced their hours, as found in the Costs of caring and impact of caring on work report, published by Carers UK and YouGov in 2013.

Being short of time for family and personal life is a concern frequently expressed by working carers. From our research, and the evidence we see at Carers UK, their number one priority is having the flexibility to enable them to combine their work and caring responsibilities. Flexibility can take many forms, but even relatively small adjustments in working hours and patterns can make a big difference to carers, while also enhancing staff retention and productivity.

Working four days a week rather than five is a good example of a relatively simple arrangement that can benefit both employees and employers, whether in the short or longer-term. While some caring crises will be sudden and need an immediate response, other situations will be more ongoing. An extra day a week can therefore be the adjustment that makes the difference in enabling planned or longer-term caring responsibilities.

Several member organisations of our business forum, Employers for Carers, offer this flexibility and it is particularly valued by carers, especially when part of a wider suite of support. Flexible leave, alongside flexible working arrangements, is particularly helpful in enabling employees to manage caring crises and longer-term arrangements, such as supporting a family member who is coming out of hospital or is at the end of their life.

Actively promoting any such support available is also crucial to encourage take up. This is particularly important for carers, as many people may feel uncomfortable about raising caring issues at work, and therefore do not come forward for support.

With more unpaid care than ever being provided by family and friends, and greater longevity and longer working lives, caring will be an increasingly important driver for workplace support of this type.

Katherine Wilson is head of employers for carers at Carers UK