In the UK, an estimated 3.7 million people balance the demanding responsibilities of both work and caregiving. These individuals, known as working carers, play a crucial role in supporting their loved ones while contributing to their workplace and the broader UK economy.
Despite their contributions, working carers face daily challenges that can impact their wellbeing and professional growth. So how can employers ease the struggles of working carers and provide comprehensive support in the workplace?
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What Qualifies You as a Working Carer?
Working carers are people who have both work and caring responsibilities. These individuals take on the crucial role of providing care and support to a family member, relative, or friend who may have a physical or mental health condition, disability, or be in old age. The people they care for can range from elderly parents requiring assistance with daily activities to children or adults with disabilities in need of specialised care.
Caregiving is not limited to a specific age group or gender. Carers can be of any age, from young adults caring for parents with chronic illnesses to older individuals caring for their adult children with disabilities.
Challenges Experienced By Working Carers
While the role of a working carer can be rewarding, it can also be physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding. Here, we outline some of the main challenges of being a working carer.
Balancing Care With Working Commitments
Research shows that nearly two-thirds (59%) of carers spend more than 12 hours per week caring for another person. This is a significant number of hours each week, particularly when these hours need to be worked around a 9 – 5 job.
Caregiving can sometimes even be a round-the-clock responsibility, demanding significant energy. In these situations, juggling appointments, providing hands-on care, and being on call for emergencies can make it difficult for working carers to maintain regular working hours or attend meetings and events. This conflict between work and caring duties can lead to feelings of guilt, increased stress, and a sense of divided attention.
Mental and Physical Exhaustion
The demanding nature of caregiving, coupled with the responsibilities of a job, often leads to mental and physical exhaustion for working carers. They may experience fatigue, sleep deprivation, and heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
The constant need to be available and responsive to both work-related and caregiving demands can take a toll on their overall health and wellbeing. This exhaustion can impact their productivity, concentration, and overall job satisfaction, leading to burnout and decreased job performance.
Lack Of Support and Understanding
The CIPD reported that 1 in 4 working carers consider giving up paid employment entirely as a result of poor support from their employer. It seems that many working carers feel a sense of isolation and a lack of support in the workplace.
Co-workers and employers may not always fully understand the challenges faced by carers in terms of their caring role. The absence of flexible work arrangements, such as flexible hours or remote work options, can further exacerbate the difficulties faced by working carers when juggling work and their caring responsibilities.
How Organisations Can Support Working Carers
By recognising the unique needs of working carers, organisations can play a pivotal role in providing comprehensive support and creating an inclusive work environment. Here are some ways employers can offer valuable help to working carers in their company:
Organisations can develop policies that specifically address the needs of working carers. This includes considering enhanced pay for carers who need to take time off work to attend to their caregiving responsibilities.
Offering additional benefits, such as paid caregiving leave, can provide much-needed financial relief and ensure that working carers do not face undue financial strain while balancing their work and caregiving commitments.
Empathy And Understanding
Creating a culture of empathy and understanding within the organisation is crucial for supporting working carers. Encouraging open dialogue and creating a supportive atmosphere where working carers feel comfortable discussing their needs can go a long way.
By promoting awareness and education around caregiving, organisations can help colleagues and managers gain a better understanding of the unique circumstances faced by working carers and foster a culture of compassion.
Flexible working arrangements can significantly benefit working carers by allowing them to balance their caregiving responsibilities with their work commitments. This may include options such as flexible hours, compressed workweeks, remote work arrangements or even opportunities to take a career break. Providing flexibility empowers working carers to attend medical appointments, manage emergencies, and fulfil their caregiving duties while maintaining their job-related responsibilities.
Wellbeing Support and Benefits
Prioritising the wellbeing of working carers is essential. Employers can offer various wellbeing initiatives, such as employee assistance programmes and mental health resources. Providing free support such as employee networks for carers to talk about their support needs can help alleviate stress, prevent burnout, and enhance overall resilience and mental wellbeing.
On top of that, organisations could provide benefits such as private medical insurance for families to alleviate any stress relating to NHS waiting times. Benefits such as this show the organisation’s commitment to supporting working carers.
How Organisations Can Benefit From Supporting Working Carers
Supporting carers is not only the morally right thing to do but also presents numerous advantages for organisations.
Here are some ways in which organisations can benefit from supporting working carers:
Supporting working carers can have a positive impact on productivity levels within an organisation. When employees feel supported and valued in managing their caregiving responsibilities, they are more likely to be engaged and focused in their work. Flexible work arrangements and policies that accommodate caregiving needs can help working carers maintain a healthy work-life balance, reducing stress and increasing their ability to perform effectively on the job.
Supporting working carers can help organisations retain valuable talent and essential skills. By providing flexible working arrangements and other supportive policies, employers reduce the likelihood of working carers feeling compelled to leave their jobs due to the challenges of balancing work and caregiving responsibilities. This helps organisations retain experienced employees who possess valuable knowledge, skills, and expertise, avoiding the costs associated with recruitment and onboarding new employees.
Improves Employer Brand and Reputation
Organisations that prioritise and support carers establish a positive reputation as an employer of choice. Word spreads about an organisation’s supportive policies and inclusive culture, attracting top talent and potential clients who appreciate the company’s commitment to employee wellbeing. This can have a positive impact on employer brand, positioning you as an empathetic and socially responsible employer.
Working Carers and Employment Law
Several laws and regulations in the UK protect the rights of working carers, ensuring that they receive fair treatment and appropriate accommodations.
Let’s explore some of the laws protecting workplace carers:
- The Equality Act 2010
This legislation prohibits discrimination based on protected characteristics, including disability and age. Carers who provide care for individuals with disabilities or elderly relatives are protected under this act. Employers are obligated to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of carers, such as providing flexible working arrangements or adjusting job responsibilities, to ensure that they are not disadvantaged due to their caregiving responsibilities.
- The Flexible Working Regulations 2014
These regulations provide eligible employees with the right to request flexible working arrangements, including changes to working hours, location, or patterns. Carers can utilise this provision to better balance their work and caregiving responsibilities. Employers must give due consideration to such requests and provide a valid business reason if they are unable to accommodate them.
- The Employment Rights Act 1996
This act grants certain rights to working carers, including the right to time off for dependents. Carers are entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off to deal with unforeseen or emergencies related to their care responsibilities. This provision ensures that working carers are not penalised for attending to urgent caregiving matters.