24th November 2022 marks Carers Rights Day. This year’s theme is “Caring Costs”
For carers who are also working, caring has the potential to cost in terms of finance, physical and mental health, career and more. Every day 600 people leave work as a result of caring (Carers UK, YouGov poll). This number is set to increase as more people take on caring responsibilities for family and friends. If unsupported, caring also has the potential to cost employers.
Earlier this year Carers Week (6th — 12th June 2022) introduced the theme “Visible, valued and supported” A great starting point for our thinking…what changes could we make in the workplace for unpaid carers who also work to feel visible, valued and supported?
Let’s start by getting super clear about who carers are. The widely accepted definition is “someone who provides unpaid care and support to a family member or friend who has a disability, illness, mental health condition, or who needs extra help as they grow older.”
It might be more helpful to think about it a little differently, a carer isn’t someone else, another person, a different group of people. Most of us will have caring roles in our life times, we will have friends who are carers or we will be cared for by someone. So rather than trying to first identify carers and then offer them support we can start by speaking to everyone and triggering that thought — “this could be me”.
Sharing stories, case studies and examples are a powerful way of doing this, highlighting a range of caring roles. People throughout the organisation being brave and sharing their situations can be powerful, but to do that the organisation needs to first feel like a safe place where we can do this.
Language is important here too. I cared for my husband with Young Onset Parkinson’s for 8 years before I identified as a carer. It was my GP who told me when I made an appointment for an array of symptoms that turned out to be carers’ fatigue. We think of ourselves as wives, children, parents, partners, friends. Our caring role is probably one of many hats we wear.
We can show how much we value an employee through our words and actions, but first let’s really understand their value. For many a period of caring in our lives is where we really develop our emotional intelligence, compassion and maturity. The hidden skills of form filling, system busting, advocacy, multi tasking, time management, negotiation, diplomacy and resilience are also not to be underestimated. This carer sums it up well:
“Finding a way to value the insight caregivers have to help improve the business — see it as a benefit not burden — e.g. accessibility improvements; working under adversity; mindset and resilience etc”
Unpaid carers are currently leaving their jobs in high numbers. A typical scenario might be someone in their early 50’s caring for a parent who has been diagnosed with a form of dementia or with mobility issues. Possibly about to step into their full career potential, able to take on a more senior role and offer diversity in the leadership team. Pressure juggling the 2 roles builds up, without support they may feel like the only option is to leave or at the very least put their career development on hold.
“I’ve been really worried about having to leave my current job, but they’ve said I can work remotely….They have been incredible at accommodating my new needs”
For any employers not quite on board with the value of carers it might be helpful to take a look at the rights that carers have and your responsibilities around this: Carer Rights at Work
There are a whole range of approaches that could be activated, but it’s really important that the approach works with the culture and ways of working of your organisation. When we asked the Mobilise community of carers about this the 3 key things they wanted were flexibility, compassion and trust. Above all, any policies and inspiring words need to be delivered at every level of an organisation… “walk the talk!”
For many organisations a starting point is often a webinar or awareness raising event for Carers Rights Day or Carers Week (5-9th June 2023). It is important to be broad in the audience reach here, remember people might not know they are carers and we want to encourage a view where we all see ourselves as potential carers.
A webinar or event might not be right for all organisations, perhaps it starts with smaller conversations in team meetings using a stimulus of a carer story or blog to open up a conversation.
There might already be some great support available. Making use of wellbeing helplines, health care programmes and Employee Assistance Programmes is a good first step. Other organisations might encourage people to reach out for support to established local or national support like Mobilise (so some great signposting would help here). Or peer groups, buddy systems, coaching and mentoring might be more relevant.
There are organisations that have great working policies that support carers, offering flexibility and additional paid or unpaid leave. Communication and effective delivery of these is just as important as the policy. An understanding manager who has the backing of some carer friendly policies will have a big impact. Flexible working requests that lead to an open and creative discussion could make a real difference. For other employers it might be less formal but just as importantly wrapped into the values and principles at the heart of the organisation.
A tick box for carers to self-identify on an HR system might help an organisation to understand how many people have a caring role and to be able to communicate directly with them. This will only have an impact if people feel safe to disclose their caring role “Will my manager think I’m not committed?”
Being inclusive in the caring space means recognising and encompassing all sorts of caring roles and situations. For example Mental health, substance misuse, disability, long term illness, chronic health conditions, hidden disabilities, end of life and life shortening conditions as well as frailty and mobility issues. Carers might be parents (of young or adult children), siblings, partners (including those who are separated) adult children caring for parents, neighbours and friends as well as other relatives. Carers don’t always live with the person they care for, sometimes travelling to care or managing things remotely. Different cultural backgrounds and communities may see caring differently and families may take different approaches to caring.
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could say something like this about their employer:
“My employer has been brilliant… Time allotted for the endless meetings… Working from home 4 days a week so I can look after mum…. Extended breaks if needed to provide care when mum needs more attention…. Set lunch times to allow for mum having regular set lunches… And my team leader is fully supportive and is always on hand. But most of all they ask how I am… and mum.. They care. I couldn’t ask for better employers.”
Most change will start by conversation — understanding what will make a difference to individuals. For a glimpse of what members of the Mobilise community say would help take a look at this blog: Things carers love or would love their workplace, colleague and boss to do
Some simple support options to consider
- Signposting carers to internal and external forms of support
- Connecting carers together — yammer groups, monthly lunch meetups. Virtual might mean that more people can join. Educating Matters can support with regular webinars or workshop events that focus on topics such as: first steps if you are new to caring; practical tips to make caring easier; and carer wellbeing
- Raise awareness so that line managers and colleagues are understanding of pressures and encourage conversations
- Make use of existing diversity and inclusion networks
- Carers Champion from a senior position
- Carer and family friendly policies including flexible working, dependent leave and carers leave
- Conversations around flexible and hybrid working
- Carer & wellbeing passports
- Include caring responsibilities in the onboarding process and onward employee journey
- Making use of existing resources eg Wellbeing helpline, Health care plans, EAP
- Simple daily actions that show you care — making a cup of tea, recognising need to talk / off load, a note of appreciation
By Suzanne Bourne
Please reach out if you would like to know more about how Educating Matters can help your organisations support colleagues with caring responsibilities