What support can employers give to young adult carers in the workplace?

Need to know:

  • Good communication and open dialogue with young carers is the most effective way of identifying the challenges they face.
  • Offer benefits and support for their career progression and learning opportunities.
  • Employers need to be aware of their legal responsibilities to staff caring for those with disabilities or who need time off in an emergency.

Juggling work with care responsibilities at home can be a huge challenge for employees, especially for younger members of the workforce.

The charity Carers Trust estimates there are at least 376,000 young adult carers aged between 16 and 25 in the UK and, in some organisations, they make up a large proportion of the workforce.

The challenges these youngsters face can be likened to those experienced by parents in the workplace, but are often exacerbated by a lack of support from family and the wider community.

Many also lack the opportunity to speak to peers in a similar situation. Young Carers Action Day on 16 March aims to raise awareness of these challenges and the support measures employers can make available to them.

Understand the pressures

Flexibility is a priority. Being able to adjust their working hours to fit in around their caring responsibilities can make a positive impact on their lives. Employers should also demonstrate a greater understanding of the potential for more unexpected absences than with other employees and be more accommodating of them.

Sarah Brannan, senior benefits consultant at Buck, says: “Good line management is also important. Maintaining an open dialogue and encouraging employees to talk about the things they are struggling with can help employers identify areas where they can provide support.”

Young adult carers often have significant financial responsibility in terms of household budgeting, including managing bills and, often, benefits payments. Financial wellbeing benefits, including, educational support around budgeting, savings and loans can, therefore, prove helpful.

Having to choose between the person in their care and expectations of their work performance can also impact the mental health of young carers, which can lead to a sense of isolation when they feel that no one understands their situation.

“An employee assistance programme (EAP) can be an invaluable benefit, offering counselling and support and, in some cases, information around legal and financial matters, and signposting charities with support facilities such as peer groups and respite care,” adds Brannan.

Learning and development opportunities

A significant number of young carers can be affected just as they are starting out in their careers. Employers can offer workplace learning and opportunities to gain formal qualifications and help to mitigate some of the long-term potential impact on their careers.

Dominic Grinstead, general manager at MetLife UK, says: “Ensuring that there are continued conversations about career progression and personal development so that the carers feel they are not having to make professional sacrifices is crucial.

“For young carers who may just be starting out their career, feeling supported and understood will make a big difference to how they view their employer and how loyal they will become as employees.”

Employers can risk claims of associative discrimination if they put an employee at a detriment because of their caring responsibilities if the person they provide care to is considered to have a disability under the Equality Act, says Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at Peninsula.

“It’s also important to keep in mind that employees are entitled to take time off for dependents in emergency situations, so such leave should not be unreasonably refused,” she adds.

Employers should also be mindful of the needs of staff members who rely on young carers and should assess any support they may also need in the workplace. “Conducting a welfare meeting is the best way to understand how the employee is feeling and what adjustments would be the most effective for them,” adds Palmer.

Vicky Morgan, head of young carers and young adult carers at Carers Trust, adds she would like to see more employers valuing the skills young carers can bring to an organisation.

“Many learn from an early age how to prioritise as they juggle school work with hours of caring duties at home each week, and instinctively understand the importance of being responsible for someone else and can be relied on to be punctual,” she says

“People who have experienced a busy caring role through school and college years have valuable skills that employers need to pay more attention to.”