How will support for working carers change after the pandemic?

Need to know:

  • Even as we move out of lockdown, organisations are becoming increasingly aware that carers still need additional support and flexibility.
  • Adapt and communicate a benefits strategy to acknowledge this growing section of the workforce.
  • Signpost carer specific support, such as policies and guidance, that could be of use to them.

There have been many challenges since the beginning of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, and the increasing responsibility that has been placed upon carers in these exceptional circumstances has only heightened the need for organisations to ensure this pocket of the workforce is not neglected.

Claire McCartney, senior policy advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says: “The impact of the pandemic has put more demands on carers. Support from organisations makes a difference and represents an opportunity for employers to have that first discussion with employees or vulnerable members. This is an opportunity for employers to be aware and gain understanding, and implement change by bringing it out into the open. It’s thinking about practical solutions that make the biggest difference.”

Highlighting the need for support and open communication

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly brought to light the juggling skills of carers. According to the Caring behind closed doors research by Carers UK, which surveyed 5,000 carers and was published in April 2020, 70% of carers have had to take on more caring duties due to the pandemic, with up to an additional 10 hours of unpaid care per week. Carers are now helping loved ones with personal care, practical tasks and emotional support. Furthermore, more than half (55%) were feeling overwhelmed by their increased caring responsibilities since the beginning of the pandemic.

Iain Thomson, director of incentive and recognition at Sodexo Engage, says: “Childcare is the go-to topic. There have been areas that have been appreciated, like breakfast with the kids but it’s been a challenge for many. It’s highlighted that people have caring duties of other types, not just children. Elderly care or reliance on by a family member due to an illness or medical condition has been highlighted to more organisations than previously.

“Communication is key. Ever since Covid, people are more open about their home life to enable them to continue to work. During the strict lockdown, managers generally have been having more open conversations with team members. It’s raised the subject far more, but [employers] have to be mindful of how [they] communicate and do it in different ways. We’ve got email overload, [and] have conference calls when appropriate, but keep things fresh.”

Bridging the carers benefits gap

Employers can put in place a carers policy or clear guidance so that employees know how things have changed in the new normal, and clearly communicate this. “There is still a lot of confusion around this, not everyone identifies as a carer, they might just think they are doing their duty and not mention it to their line manager if they are looking after a family member. Others may feel they are not comfortable sharing personal information, McCartney explains. “They might not feel supported unless there is transparency around having a carer policy guidance and communication and what it means to be a carer.  Carers UK is a great source of information and provisions are available through NHS health checks, signposting employees to financial resources like the carers allowance.”

Organisations should also consider paid flexible leave, says McCartney. “It’s really important now more than ever,” she explains. “We know that there are strong financial burdens on carers if they have to reduce hours to juggle caring responsibilities. They may take a hit to their income, they may even have to take out a loan or remortgage to pay for the care they are giving and we think paid leave would make a really big difference and would encourage organisations where they can to offer this benefit.”

Encouraging a flexible culture

The topic of long-term flexible working is the most predominant benefit that has emerged from the lockdown; employees have discovered a new way of working, and carers will welcome this change.

Jennifer Liston-Smith, head of thought leadership at Bright Horizons Work and Family Solutions, says: “Working parents and carers have become much more visible during the pandemic, which is kind of a hidden benefit. Although it’s been a terrible time for so many people and businesses in so many ways, it has shone a light on the duel workload that people carry when they are supporting family, loved ones and friends outside of work whether adults or child dependents.”

The pandemic has made flexible working more of an essential practice for many employers. “Employers have to think of providing help with care solutions; what they can do emotionally in terms of wellbeing and communications and terms of flexibility,” adds Liston-Smith. “So it’s become an agenda item for a much wider variety of organisations.” 

Offering tailored wellbeing support

Working carers might need more help and advice to help them manage their work-life balance. Offering tailored wellbeing support that empathises with what they might be going through as a carer right now, as well as offering supportive advice, could go a long way into helping reduce any stress or anxiety they are currently feeling; specialised webinars, parental coaching sessions and signposting specific content relating to their needs, as well as offering guidance to line managers so they feel better equipped to deal with any issues that are specific to carers should all be considered.

“Sessions on managing stress and anxiety on a personal level and recognising stress relating to others to get the conversation started and practical tips for line managers to navigate through situations are good options,” says Liston-Smith. “Some people will use their people skills and empathy, but for some people it doesn’t come naturally and it’s about providing a checklist so they can navigate tricky situations. Stress and anxiety are ramped up a lot during this time.”

On-site support

Flexible working is not a viable option for all and as we slowly progress back into an office-based environment, Liston-Smith has seen the success of having childcare facilities onsite or a nursery-share type set up. “As employees start to move back to offices and places of work, even if there’s a more flexible remote-working pattern, the presence of childcare facilities is a real enabler to the employers that want to make the most of their real estate, that want to see the flow of people back into the office and also want to make those places of work really work for people to communicate and share ideas,” she explains. “We know people have been missing the exchange.”

A popular option is for employers is to put in place a partnership with a childcare setting near their place of work or near to where the employee lives, adds Liston-Smith. “We call it a nursery partnership, which might mean that rather than having a nursery on site [employees] might have access to a nursery in four different places, flexible in some ways for an employer which can then share [between] employees: maybe someone has it two days and someone three days.”

The way in which we work may never be the same and employers need to embrace the changes,  recognise that carers need more support than ever before and adapt their benefits strategy accordingly.

“Be the attractive employer that people want to stay with in spite of the unsettling uncertainty that people see around them,” says Liston-Smith.

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