The journey to build a Carer-friendly workplace

Published on: Mon 21 November 2022 by Emma Baldwin

Did you know that there are approximately 5 million working Carers in the UK? That means one in eight of your workforce have to balance their paid role and the role of caring for a ‘family member, partner or friend who needs help because of their illness, frailty, disability, a mental health problem or an addition and cannot cope without their support.’

Anna Smith, Project Manager at Forward Carers said: “How this plays out can vary in practice. For some, this can be the equivalent of having two full-time jobs or carrying out their caring role before and after work. We work closely with Working Carers and understand the hard balance of managing conflicting responsibilities such as needing to take someone to a medical appointment or even ‘simply’ worrying about the person they care for during work hours.”

Caring for a loved one can be rewarding in so many ways, but without the right support caring can also physically and mentally overwhelming. With the responsibility of aspects of someone else’s life, as well as carrying out your own professional and personal tasks, it’s easy to see why around 600 Carers leave their job every day in the UK.

Normalising caring at work

The first step is to understand carer’s rights and ensuring that any Boards, councils, or committees, line managers and colleagues are aware of the importance of supporting Carers; including being aware of the myths and reducing the stigmas that are associated with caring.

Simply by understanding these points and then transferring this learning into the action of support, organisations will be on their journey to creating carer-inclusive workplaces.

If Carer’s have to deal with conflict at work such as a comment when coming into work later than normal because they have had to attend a medical appointment for the person they care for, or being greeted with unhappy facial expressions when they have had to leave a meeting to answer an emergency personal phone call, then they will not feel psychologically safe and empowered to bring their true and best self to work.

Balancing work and care can be incredibly challenging without the right support and Working Carers may experience high levels of stress. So, without key support in place for them, they won’t be working to their full potential which is a great personal loss and data shows this could have a significant impact on the business.

Anna commented: “Most Carer’s want to be in work and have developed many useful skills through their caring role that translate to workplace success – from the ability to juggle tasks, high levels of personal resilience, empathy, creativity and reliability. When Carers leave work because of lack of support, it has a significant impact on businesses who not only face significant recruitment costs but also knowledge loss.”

Carer’s are not one of the nine protected characteristics and are therefore not explicitly covered in the Equality Act 2010. Currently Carers UK is supporting a private members’ bill to have statutory legislation that all Working Carer’s will be untitled to five days unpaid caring leave. They are also seeking the right for all employees to be able to request flexible working from day one (currently this is only available after 26 weeks.)

What are the positive impacts of supporting Carer’s at work?

The benefits for Carer’s and businesses can be huge. Business benefits can include improved:

  • Staff retention
  • Staff wellbeing
  • Staff productivity
  • Workplace culture (including gender balance and inclusivity)

And this can lead to reduced:

  • Recruitment costs
  • Sickness absence
  • Presenteeism
  • Knowledge loss

The journey to build a Carer-friendly workplace

The average age to take on  a caring role is 46+, meaning they are often the most senior or long-serving staff. But Working Carers are found at all ages, across all diversities and levels of seniorities, so being aware of Carers and the support in place is critical for organisations and employees.

Provided by Forward Carers, here are some tips to start building a carer-inclusive organisation:

Raise positive awareness of Carers

Some people may not even realise that they are in a caring role so awareness of Carers in general may help these people recognise this and seek appropriate help. Or people may not feel ready or open to explain that they are a Carer, potentially due to the taboos around caring or they feel hesitant to ask for support.

As well as understanding the challenges Working Carers have, raising awareness will help create a culture where people respect their colleagues and are supportive.

Undertake training

An extension of raising awareness, providing in-depth training on Carers can benefit employees and organisations.

Explore the legislations, real-life scenarios and the impact of caring in our Carer-Aware training or have training Carer-Champions within your workforce.

Be flexible

This can take so many forms but due to Carers having additional responsibilities, and in some cases, unplanned responsibilities, organisations need to provide a degree of flexibility. Each Carer will be different and have different requirements so have an open chat with them; find out what you can do to be flexible for them. Here’s a starting point:

  • Offer amended start or finish times
  • Offer remote or hybrid working
  • Allow staff on rotas to be on the same rota each week so they can arrange paid Carers
  • Allow Carers (or even better, all staff) to take lunch breaks to fit around their caring role
  • Offer Carers Leave. So many Carers use their annual leave to undertake their caring responsibilities and this can risk burnout

Ensure there is a Carers policy

This policy will provide guidelines and outline the support available to Carers.

Set up a staff network for Working Carers

Creating a group where people with the same lived experiences can speak to one another, may make them feel included and that they’re not the only one going through the challenges. The network can provide great connections where the Carers can learn from one another and be each other’s support system.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

In addition to all of the above, communication is key.

You can have amazing policies and set up a support network, but if no one knows about them, they won’t have any impact. Publish a group message on the intranet, have group-wide meetings, get a member from each team involved, put posters up around the workplace – people take notice and listen in different ways, so ensure that there are visual aids as well as verbally being told about the support available.

Lastly, but most importantly, always involve Carers in your planned support to make sure it is fit for purpose.

Carer Aware Training

Exploring definitions, legislations, real-life scenarios and the impact of caring, our Carer Aware training, in partnership with Forward Carers, will equip you with the knowledge and skills to work towards fostering a Carer-inclusive workplace. By taking your employees on this journey, they will walk away with steps to create an environment where unpaid Carers are supported to succeed in all of their responsibilities.