Interview: Supporting carers in the workplace

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Katherine Wilson, Head of Employers for Carers, recently spoke with Vitae Jobs about support for carers in the workplace and what important steps employers can take.

Carers are increasingly representing a significant part of the workforce and as the population ages the number of carers rises. Without support for carers in the workplace there is a real risk that this valuable resource of employees will be lost, taking with them essential skills, experience and expertise.

Employees with caring responsibilities face many challenges managing their work and home balance. Without support, Carers may suffer from stress, exhaustion and some may give up work.

There are many benefits to providing the right support to carers in the workplace including the retention of experienced staff, reduction in absences and in the longer term, cost savings on recruitment costs. In return, well supported staff reduces staff turnover, increases moral and performance and creates a happy working environment. A carer friendly organisation also has access to a wider pool of potential employees.

We spoke to Katherine Wilson – Head of Employers for Carers to find out more about how employers can develop carer friendly policies and good practice in ensuring carers are fully supported in the workplace.

Recent research suggests employees and potential candidates no longer see salary as the most important factor in a job, with work/life can now taking priority for many. Is this something you would agree with?  If so what do you believe are the key drivers when people consider applying for a job?

KW – From our research and the evidence we see at Carers UK the number one priority for carers in employment is flexibility to combine work and personal life. This also reflects the results of a recent wider study which found that three in four UK employees would appreciate being offered flexible working with nearly a third now preferring this option to a pay rise.

Feeling ‘time poor’ – being short of time for family and personal life – is a concern frequently voiced by working people of all ages, whether millennials, parents or carers of older family members and friends. Flexibility to enable work/life balance is therefore a key priority for many of us. An increasingly busy digital world is likely to have added to time pressures but these are particularly acute for those of us combining work and care. And 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 flexibility.

What advice and support would you give to employers seeking to develop a carer-friendly policy and practice to retain members of staff?

KW – Firstly, openly recognise caring as a workplace issue and articulate a policy or commitment to supporting carers in the workplace.

Secondly, ensure that caring/carers are included in workplace policies (or, if you are a smaller organisation without HR policies, this could be in a statement or guidance).

Thirdly, promote workplace support available to carers and the issue of caring itself. There is often a double barrier to carer identification which is why this can be such a hidden issue in the workplace. Firstly many people don’t recognise themselves as carers and therefore don’t come forward for support. Secondly, others may not think workplace support applies to them, or feel uncomfortable about raising personal, and often emotionally difficult, issues at work. Education, training and support for line managers is therefore critical here too.

Fourthly, provide practical support in the workplace, such as flexible working and leave, health and wellbeing schemes and signposting to relevant information and support?

Should employers foster Carer Networks in their organisations and how should they support them?

KW – Carers networks are a growing form of workplace provision which can play a key role in supporting carers and many members of our Employers for Carers forum now offer these. Such networks may be face to face and/or online.  Often employee led, it is helpful if they are championed by a senior sponsor in the organisation and supported by relevant HR colleague(s). Carers in the networks support each other by signposting to sources of workplace and external help and providing practical advice and tips from their personal experience of caring. Colleagues in the networks report feeling less isolated and better informed and supported. Line managers are also able to signpost carers to a source of practical information and support within the workplace.

For employers that have a Carers Policy, what do you believe they can do to promote the business benefits of supporting carers in the workplace to people who are considering applying for a role e.g. should it be mentioned in job adverts?

KW – Identify carers as a potential resource and develop a plan to reach carers as part of recruitment strategy. Carers typically have the skills, experience or attitude that employers are looking for but are often overlooked, partly because they are not an easily identifiable group. Look beyond traditional recruitment routes and consider alternative options such as promoting local job opportunities via community centres, surgeries or carers centres.

Communicate the message that you recognise the business benefits of supporting carers in the workplace, and are an inclusive employer, both on your website and in specific job adverts. When advertising, direct reference to carers/caring, examples of flexible opportunities offered and initiatives like local press releases with case studies of existing employees who are caring can all encourage carers to apply.

Build flexibility into the recruitment process to help address the barriers that carers may face in applying for jobs. For example, a workplace open day, an information brochure or telephone application, may provide carers with the opportunity to establish if the post could be suitable for them. Ensuring that minimum criteria do not automatically exclude carers, such as a reference to current or similar work experience, can also be helpful here.

Can you name one or two exemplar models where employers have developed and supported Carers Networks and what have been the benefits to both the employees and employers?

KW – Centrica’s network was set up in January 2005 by carers in the company as a source of support and advice about all aspects of combining caring and working. It now has 1,000 members and enables peer-to-peer support as well as networking opportunities for staff to share experiences. The network also helps line managers by signposting resources they can use to support members of their team. Centrica believes that the success and sustainability of the network is due to the fact that it has been both employee-led and sponsored at senior level.

PwC had many staff networks in place when its carers network was established in 2009. Early activities included publishing a carers information leaflet and holding talks with external organisations.  The network has recently come together with the parents network under the wider SPACE network (Supporting Parents, Carers and Everyone) to help share learning and increase visibility and take up of support. SPACE offers guidance and support to staff, (including a pack for new carers) and a way to connect with others in a similar position, carer to carer.

Shared from Vitae Jobs.