How to support working carers without alienating other employees

Need to know:

  • While it is important that employers demonstrate their willingness to support working carers, they must be careful not to alienate employees that don’t have caring responsiblities.
  • There are many benefits available that employers can offer working carers, and these can also be promoted to other employees.
  • Communicating the benefits and avenues of support will feed into an inclusive and caring culture; something that is of benefit to all employees.

One in seven employees juggles caring responsibilities with work, according to Juggling work and unpaid care research, published by Carers UK in February 2019. As it also found that 600 people are forced to give up work every day to focus on caring, employers must find ways to support these working carers, without alienating other employees.

The type of support working carers need can sometimes compound these feelings of alienation. Flexible working hours and additional leave, whether paid or unpaid, can help an employee manage their work and caring responsibilities but it can also leave co-workers questioning why they have to pick up the slack.

Practical support

Taking a more proactive approach to promoting benefits for carers can help to avoid this according to Katherine Wilson, head of Employers for Carers at Carers UK. “Two thirds of people will be carers at some point in their lives and it can happen at any point in the working life,” she says. “Having policies and practical support in place and promoting it is essential. Making it explicit that an organisation supports carers can make a huge difference to all employees.”

As well as the option for flexible working, there are also employee benefits available that are particularly relevant to carers. These include employee assistance programmes (EAPs) but also more specialist concierge style services such as elder care and Reframe, which can guide employees through the care system and help them arrange appropriate support.

Although it’s sensible to promote these benefits as specifically for carers to ensure they access as much support as they need, Katy McMinn, co-founder and director of HRi, says it is also worth underlining the fact that many are available to every employee. “Anyone can apply for flexible working, and for any personal reason they might have, whether that’s studying, bringing up a family or because they love gardening,” she says. “Open and honest conversations about work-life balance and the role of flexible working will help to ensure that everyone feels supported by their employer.”

Clear communication

Other factors can also help to create this inclusive and supportive culture. Greater awareness of what it means to be a working carer and the types of pressures they face can help to remove the sense of unfairness that other employees might feel.

To create this understanding, Claire McCartney, senior policy adviser, resourcing and inclusion at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), recommends running learning sessions. “An education piece to raise awareness and empathy is worth considering,” she says. “Even having a clear definition of what a working carer is can help to remove confusion.”

Supportive line managers are another key component. As they have regular contact with their employees, they are often the first to notice if someone is struggling with a new or existing caring responsibility. “Empower them,” says Lucie McGrath, director, health and benefits GB, at Willis Towers Watson. “Make sure line managers are aware of the challenges working carers face and the support that’s available. This will help to ensure that working carers get the support they need but will also create a much more supportive and understanding culture.”

Shifting to a position where it’s easier for employees to balance working and caring responsibilities is set to get easier too. The government is consulting on a proposal to give employees a week of unpaid leave each year to provide care, which will help to raise awareness of the challenges faced by working carers.

Similarly, with the population ageing, there is much more focus on the need for benefits in this space. Mark Witte, head of health and risk consulting at Aon, expects more product innovation. “As well as the concierge style services that are currently available, there are opportunities to develop short-term emergency care packages for employees but also even insured solutions to cover future care costs,” he explains.

The Covid-19 pandemic may also help to push this issue forward. As well as giving employees more of an insight into their co-workers’ home lives and the challenges they face, the shift to remote working also demonstrated what is possible. “By working from home, working carers had more flexibility to balance their responsibilities,” says Witte. “It sets the bar for what works and, when life returns to normal, should help to shape policies around working carers.”