Carers UK research from 2019 estimated that approximately 8.8 million adults have caring responsibilities, as do one in seven of the UK’s workforce.
Given the numbers of employed carers, supporting carers in the workplace is of paramount importance for employers. The increase in remote working as a result of the pandemic has provided opportunities for carers, who tend to be time poor. It has also reduced stress for carers who now need to travel less to and from work.
The Wavehill evaluation (2020) of Working for Carers found that the biggest barrier for carers is finding employment that fits around their caring role. The majority (88 per cent) of those surveyed by Carers UK said flexible working would be the most helpful benefit if they were caring alongside working.
However, it is important to remember that flexible working isn’t just about remote working – this isn’t a viable solution for everyone with caring responsibilities. Employers should talk to employees about other steps that would help them, such as flexible working hours, and continue to have open conversations because the intensity of caring can change over time.
Organisations could consider tools such as a Carers’ Passport, which sets out how they will be supported to combine work and care. Such tools can help employers build a clear picture of an employee’s caring role. It is also recommended that businesses implement a carers policy.
Peer support, such as workplace carers champions, and/or support groups are a good way to support carers in the workplace. Alternatively, employers could organise events during Carers Week in June to help build awareness of their caring employees’ circumstances, and the challenges they face.
Whatever support organisations offer, there should not be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Every employee will have a different set of needs and experiences, and line managers should be able to have open conversations about what works best for the individual. It is also important that steps taken to support carer employees are viable for the business. If not, stigmatisation could crop up further down the line.
Tanya Sealey is programme lead for working for carers at Carers Trust