Care pressures will push one in five employees out of the workforce early, data shows

Experts suggest flexible working and increased line manager training to support workers with caring responsibilities

Nearly one in five employees over the age of 45 expect to stop work early to care for adult family members, according to new research.

A poll of 2,020 ‘mid-life’ workers – defined as those over the age of 45 – found 19 per cent believed they would be forced to stop working before they would like to to provide care, which it estimated to equate to 2.6 million people dropping out of the workforce prematurely.

Women were found to be more at risk of having their careers curtailed – 20 per cent of them expect to leave work early compared to 17 per cent of men – with minimising care bills cited as the main reason.

The survey, conducted by Aviva, also found that 10 per cent of those surveyed were so-called ‘sandwich’ carers, facing care pressure from both young and elderly dependants. 

Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK, said employers had a key role in understanding the stresses carers faced, and a responsibility to mitigate a workforce crisis. 

“Some steps can be put in place by employers, like encouraging flexible working practices, as well as having a carers’ policy that anticipates the challenges and needs of this particular caring generation,” he said.

“They also need to recognise that, for sandwich carers, the only time they may get to talk to healthcare professionals is in work time. Increased productivity, improved staff wellbeing and a greater understanding of dementia can all be the result of employers’ commitment to supporting sandwich carers.” 

Claire McCartney, senior resourcing and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, said that despite the number of carers in the UK being set to grow from six million to nine million in the next 30 years, many workplaces were not prepared for the potential challenges that lay ahead. “Caring not only affects employees’ working lives, but can also impact on employers through rising levels of absence and attrition,” she said. 

“Organisations need to understand the urgency of this issue and do all they can to properly support and retain workplace carers. 

“This includes having a carers’ policy or framework, so carers understand the support that is in place for them. It also means offering flexible working, being flexible when carers need to take leave at short notice and training line managers to properly empower carers.”

Patrick Thompson, senior programme manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, warned that without adequate support from managers, an increasing number of employees may be forced out of work. “It’s vital that our workplaces are able to accommodate carers’ needs – or we will see increasing numbers forced out of work in the years to come,” he said.  

“This means making flexible working the default option for everyone, legislating to introduce flexible, paid carers’ leave, and giving carers a ‘right to return’ to the same job.”