August 31, 2016

How can organisations support working carers?

A significant number of the workforce are using annual leave and sick leave in order to care for elderly relatives.

Almost one in six UK workers (16%) say they have taken time off work or had to work irregular hours in order to look after older family members. These are some of the findings of a recent study by benefits provider, Willis PMI Group. The survey, which comprised 1,000 people, also found that 39% of respondents have used annual leave in order to fulfill caring responsibilities, while 34% have pulled sickies and 32% taken compassionate leave.

Why do people resort to taking annual leave or calling in sick? Many employees think that their employer would not look favourably on requests for time off to look after ageing family. According to the study, only 21% of those with caring responsibilities have flexible-working agreements in place with their employer.

A report released by Carers UK in June told a similar story. It revealed that more than a third (38%) of working carers don’t feel comfortable talking about their caring responsibilities when they are at work. Furthermore, 35% said their employer didn’t understand their caring role.

This situation can have a negative impact on people’s health and wellbeing, as well as on their career potential. Nearly two-fifths (37%) of those involved in the Carers UK report said their work had suffered as a result of their caring commitments, with 25% saying they had either turned down or felt unable to pursue a promotion.

And that’s not all either. A sizeable number (60%) of carers say they have given up work or reduced the number of hours they work in order to manage their caring responsibilities.

What can and should HR do about this situation? Organisations need to have formal, written policies in place that support working carers. However, another report into the caring responsibilities of the UK workforce, this time carried out by the CIPD in conjunction with healthcare provider Westfield Health, found that just over a quarter (26%) of employers have a formal, written policy on the matter. A further 8% have an informal, verbal policy. Almost two-fifths (38%) neither have any policies, nor plan to create any in the foreseeable future.

The problem is most acute in the private sector, where only 18% have a formal, written policy in place. The report also found that just 11% of private sector organisations provide line manager training on the issue and only one in five (20%) know how many of their employees are also carers.

The CIPD/Westfield Health survey asked employees with caring duties what they would like their employers to do to help them. The feedback was that 62% wanted minimal involvement in their personal lives. However, they did express a desire to feel empowered and to be given the permission to respond as needed. This might require flexible work arrangements or information and advice from an employee assistance programme, for example.

After all, HR needs to consider that the problem is not going to go away or get easier. As Mike Blake, director at Willis PMI Group, said, the ageing population creates challenges for both employees and their employers. “Already, 30% of the country’s workforce is over the age of 50, meaning many will find themselves needing to juggle work with the responsibility of caring for an elderly relative, often a parent.”