As Christmas approaches here at Parental Choice our thoughts have turned to groups of people who may have a more challenging festive period than others. As a business we assist working parents in managing their careers with effective childcare, but along with a number of our corporate clients we have recognised there are a growing number of working parents who are also carers. We have turned to CarersUK to find out a little more about who they are and for some advice on how businesses can support their working carers.
As the UK’s only national membership charity for carers, Carers UK is both a supportive community and a movement for change. For the past 50 years they have been driven by carers raising their voices together to call for change and seek recognition and support.Looking after someone can be a rewarding experience but it can also be lonely and bewildering. At these times, you need people around you who really understand caring.
CarersUK help each other by sharing experiences and offering support. Guided by a Board of Trustees that’s primarily made up of carers, they are rooted in the real experiences of their members and they are here to make life better for carers.
Caring and a career…finding the balance
Today, 30 November is Carers Rights Day and is a timely reminder that three million people in the UK are combining work with caring for a disabled or seriously ill family member or friend.
Among such carers, parents of disabled children often face significant challenges in combining work and family responsibilities. While being a working parent can be testing enough, a parent carer will usually face extra pressures on their time and energy and on their own health and well-being. As well as the additional element of care involved, accessing external support services can be a real challenge and many childcare facilities are not suitable to support children with disabilities.
Because of these pressures it is not surprising that one in six carers (including parent carers) give up work or cut back working hours, to care. Tiredness and stress are particular challenges and evidence suggests that such workers are at risk of ill health if unsupported.
The peak age for caring is often when workers are also at the peak of their careers – so if employers DON’T address this issue they are at risk of losing staff talent, resilience and productivity. Research has shown that over 2 million people have given up work at some point to care for loved ones and 3 million have reduced working hours.
Conversely, employers who DO address carer support are increasingly identifying the business benefits of improved staff retention, resilience and results for the bottom line.
Evidence from Carers UK and our business forum Employers for Carers (EfC) shows that top of the list that can make the difference for parent carers are workplace flexibility, understanding and signposting to practical support.
For example flexible working arrangements offered by some of our member employers include staggered, compressed or reduced hours, remote working, flexible holidays and career breaks. However, members also report that often relatively minor flexibilities and adjustments can really make a difference too.
Paid leave to help with crisis caring situations can be vitally important for parent carers if their child is suddenly taken ill or if care arrangements break down. Leave for some planned caring situations can also help support resilience by ensuring that employees are not using up all their annual leave to care. EfC members who offer paid care leave include Aviva, Centrica and the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Other forms of workplace support which are valued by parent carers include in-house staff networks, employee assistance (or other welfare) programmes and workplace health and wellbeing initiatives. Workplace carers passports, to help facilitate conversations between carers and line managers, communicate support needs and promote consistency when there are changes in personnel, are also an increasingly popular form of support. You can find out more about employer carer passports at carerpassport.uk
Signposting to external sources of advice, information and support such as Carers UK and disability and health condition specific organisations is also another practical way of helping working carers. This not only saves time for hard-pressed staff who are doubly busy combining work and care but also demonstrates the employer’s recognition of caring as an important issue in many employees’ lives.
The most comprehensive form of signposting to external sources of care and support offered by larger-size employers is providing childcare searches and care schemes as an employee benefit. A growing number of employers are now recognising the business benefits of providing such help in terms of enhancing staff retention and resilience.
However, in smaller organisations – and in many larger ones – it is also relatively simple adjustments such as permission to make or receive personal phone calls, or a car parking space close to the workplace, which can help make a difference for parent carers.
Working parents with disabled children need to know that it is ‘okay to talk about caring’ and to tell their employers about their family responsibilities. So, whether as employers, line managers or working carers, we need to start the conversation about caring in our workplace and give this often still hidden issue the attention it deserves. With more of our family members living longer with illness and disability it has never been more important for employers to engage, support and retain carers in their workplace.
Written by Katherine Wilson who is Head of Carers UK’s business forum Employers for Carers (EfC). Supported by the specialist knowledge of Carers UK and informed by business, EfC works to ensure organisations have the right assistance and knowledge to help them support and retain employees with caring responsibilities. Katherine has previously worked on employment and equality issues in a range of sectors.
Katherine is one of Parental Choice’s panel of experts who deliver talks and learning sessions for working parents, her session ‘Caring for the Carer’ focuses on strategies to help carers and employers manage the work life balance when home life can be challenging.
 Carers UK and YouGov (2013) as part of Caring & Family Finances Inquiry UK Report (2014) Carers UK