Please forgive the direct question but who are you caring for? Or, if you are not caring for someone right now, who do you expect to be looking after in the future? A parent or another elderly relative? Perhaps your partner or a sibling with a long-term condition? Or a disabled son or daughter? Perhaps a friend or neighbour who has had an operation or an accident?
At any one time, 6.5 million Britons are caring for a loved one. That number is expected to increase to over 9 million over the next two decades as populations age. Each day 6,000 Britons begin their Caring Journey. That is 2.1 million people each year. Slightly smaller numbers end their Caring Journey each year as their loved one recovers or dies.
Caring is a fundamental part of what it means to be human. For many of us, it is the most important thing we will do in life. Caring, however, can be stressful and can have negative impacts on the carer’s physical and mental health, social life and family finances – both short and long-term. Many carers will be juggling their job whilst looking after their loved one. Employers have a crucial role to play in helping carers so they can carry on working and also being a resilient carer. In the UK workforce, 1 in 9 of us are a working carer. It is 1:8 in Australia; 1:6 in the US; and 1:3 in Canada.
At a most basic level, good employers will provide access to relevant advice and information about what it is to be a carer. I can’t count how many times during my voluntary work as chairman of Carers UK that I heard people say: “If only I knew at the beginning of my caring journey, all the things I know now.”
When operating effectively, employers have the ability to act as very efficient communication channel – often helping workers realise that they are in fact, carers. Personally, I was several years into my own caring journey, before I even realised I was a carer!
Employers can make quite simple and reasonable adjustments for their ‘carer’ employees – some of these could be as easy as allowing carers to keep their mobile phone with them on the shop floor, or providing a private room to make and receive carer-related calls during working hours.
A great initiative shown by many employers is encouraging employee-led carer networks. These networks assist in experience and expertise sharing, as well as helping to raise the profile of working carers – this is especially the case when leaders within an organisation are carers themselves, and are willing to champion the organisation’s policies.
Good organisations identify their employee carers, offer flexible and home-working, and unpaid or even paid carer-leave. Line-managers are crucial. An understanding line-manager can make all the difference. When it comes to flexible working for carers, line-managers need to be alert and aware to what may be going on in the lives of their direct reports, and that this may very well include looking after a loved one. Hence the importance of line-manager training.
Ensuring that there is consistency if a working carer switches line-manager, is one of the reasons why more organisations are introducing a Carer Passport – a document which encapsulates accommodations that have been agreed to help the carer successfully continue to work and care.
The very best employers help ex-carers to return to work; explore how technology can make life easier for working carers – especially those caring at a distance; and use their influence to help shape public policies and programmes to value, respect and support carers. As populations age around the world and people seek longer working lives, this is an urgent and growing challenge for employers. I am now on a personal mission to encourage more organisations to become great employers for their working carers.
David Grayson CBE is professor of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield University School of Management and chairman of Carers UK. His new book “Take Care: How to be a great employer for working carers” is published by Emerald Publishing.