Supporting carers in the workplace

Recent research revealed that around one in six of us regularly has to take time off work to carry out caring responsibilities. For anyone who is working full or part time, the burden of this kind of pressure can be immense. The same research also found that one in eight of us can officially call ourselves a carer, whether that’s looking after children or an elderly relative. That’s a fairly significant figure. Employers can play a big role in making life easier for carers by being aware of the pressures that carer employees face and making a few simple changes to the working environment.

Making flexible working easy

All employees with 26 weeks’ continuous service now have the right to request flexible working, including carers. However, individual employers have the power to make this lifestyle either much easier or harder to achieve. Introducing an informal internal procedure to speed up flexible working requests – in addition to the formal process – can introduce efficiency and clarity. Being receptive to flexible working and recognising the benefit to giving staff that flexibility will not only make life easier for carers but create a more committed workforce too.

Educate line managers

Part of creating a company culture that embraces flexible working is ensuring that line managers respond in the right way to requests and discussion on the topic. It’s a good idea to provide training for line managers so they understand how flexible working can benefit a business and so that it is made clear how important it is to be accommodating. It may also be beneficial to add a specific training module on carers in the workplace. Statistically, many carers tend to be female and there are still challenges when it comes to gender equality at manager level. This could mean that there may not be a natural understanding of who carers are, what they do and why they should be supported – and this needs to be overcome.

A carer policy

It is often most beneficial to put organisation attitudes to carers in black and white. A carer policy can set out the practical arrangements for accommodating those with carer responsibilities. This should tie in with other policies, such as those on flexible working. It’s a good idea to make sure that the policy gets plenty of airtime within the business. This is essential both so that carers working for you understand it’s there and also to educate others about how much the organisation wants carers to be supported.

Flexible leave

Caring responsibilities are not always predictable and having flexible leave arrangements in place can help a carer to take time off to manage a problem that may arise suddenly. All employees are entitled to take reasonable amounts of unpaid leave for dependants. However, employers can make these arrangements more accommodating to carers by, for example, offering paid leave or the opportunity to make up lost time at a later date. Being able to accommodate last minute leave requests is also key to making life easier for carers trying to balance their responsibilities with a working life.

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