More organisations should offer staff networks, says chair of TfL's Carers Network

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The skillset of carers should be celebrated in the workplace, but support is needed too, says James Mummery, chair of Transport for London’s Carers Staff Network Group.

It is well-documented that businesses are more likely to be successful if they employ people with a wide range of experiences, backgrounds and skills. Having a diverse workforce encourages creativity and innovation – and employees who are carers are one aspect of that diverse spectrum.

However, three in four carers don’t feel their caring role is understood or valued by their community, which, in a work context, can lead to them being potentially overwhelmed and unproductive. This lack of awareness is something that events like Carers Week (12-18 June) are trying to tackle. With 6.5 million carers across the UK – a number that is likely to increase – this is an increasingly important issue.

Staff networks make a huge difference to employees, but unfortunately not all organisations have them – this is something that needs to change. At Transport for London (TfL) our Carers Staff Network Group provides a forum for employees to meet fellow carers at the company and gives them the opportunity to talk to each other, be supported and share advice. With many carers feeling isolated, I’ve found that the group has a huge impact on those who are part of it because they get the chance to meet other people who understand what they are going through. It makes them feel less alone.

Often people become carers out of the blue. It’s not something that you necessarily sign up for. In my case, my father had an accident, which left him being permanently injured and unable to look after himself sufficiently. My life changed overnight. I went from being a socially active, carefree twenty-something, to someone who suddenly had to factor another person’s needs into my timetable.

In some ways, it was like becoming a parent. A lot of our members care for elderly relatives, but some are mothers and fathers too. For instance, they have children with medical conditions, which means that they have to spend a lot of time organising appointments and working out the best educational establishments for them. It’s not easy whoever you care for and there are lots of different challenges.

The group also gives staff the opportunity to find out how TfL can support them. By raising awareness of the organisation’s policies, carers can take advantage of things like flexible working and special leave for emergencies. This is also why we welcome line managers to the group too. Many of them are eager to find out how they can support their team members with caring responsibilities. They realise that if the person is stressed or unable to juggle what can often seem like two full-time jobs, then they are not going to perform very well. It’s of no benefit to the organisation or the carer to just ignore the issue, which is why offering flexibility can make all the difference.

Moreover, it is essential that carers are seen as an asset to any workforce or company as opposed to a hindrance. Caring responsibilities lead to people having an outstanding skillset. For example, carers need excellent resilience as well as the ability to perform under pressure and react to unforeseen circumstances. This means that they are not fazed by high-pressure environments, when others might be. They also have great time management skills and patience. The latter is particularly important, especially if the carer is working in a customer-facing role, as their well-developed sense of empathy can hugely improve a customer’s experience.

My advice to fellow carers is to celebrate your achievements and share your experiences. You have a lot to shout about and your caring responsibilities make you realise how brilliant the small things in life truly are. We can only make an impact by raising awareness of what caring involves.

Shared from People Management