Only a third of employers have policies to support working carers

Stressed carersAs baby boomers and Gen X age, more of the working population are responsible for the care of elderly relatives, with some being part of the ‘sandwich generation’, balancing work while caring for older family members and their own children. Yet according to a new survey published today by CIPD/Westfield Health just a third of employers (34 percent) have a formal, written policy or an informal, verbal policy in place to support working carers in their workplace . The report also finds that just 13 percent of organisations offer line manager training to support working carers, which is concerning given the key role line managers play in providing flexibility and support to people with caring responsibilities. With estimates suggesting that 3 in 5 people will end up caring for someone at some point in their lives, employers are being urged to put mechanisms in place to empower and support working carers, before they lose out on key talent; while those employers that do support working carers believe it’s made a positive difference to their culture.

The problem is particularly prevalent in the private sector, where just 11 percent of organisations offer line manager training, 18 percent have a formal, written policy aimed at supporting working carers, and only one in five (20 percent) know how many working carers they employ.

Claire McCartney, Research Adviser – Resourcing and Talent Planning at the CIPD, comments: “Caring is such a broad term, and there are often blurry lines between those who view themselves as carers and those who see themselves as simply doing their duty.

“Some might not declare themselves as carers at work because they are worried about being treated differently, or they might be concerned that reducing their hours or asking for flexible working could impact negatively on their career progression. As long as the caring agenda remains a hidden issue in the workplace, without clear policies or obvious channels for support, can you blame them?

“The onus is on employers to create and promote policies and initiatives in the workplace that empower working carers, sending employees a clear message that their organisation will support them. Measurement is key to supporting working carers – without it, employers cannot know how many working carers they have and what the most appropriate policies, tools and support might be. Line manager training is also crucial, as they are often the first port of call for employees needing support and they need to be able to understand the context in which working carers are operating, and have the tools and the confidence to help them develop their skills and progress in their careers.”

The survey found that, of those organisations that do support working carers, almost half (45 percent) think the steps they have taken have made a positive difference to their organisation’s culture. This figure rises to 66 percent of organisations which have a policy in place geared towards the needs of carers. The five top reasons why organisations support carers at work are: it’s the right thing to do as a good employer (65 percent); it improves work-life balance (60 percent); it improves employee morale/engagement (58 percent); it improves retention (53 percent); and reduces absenteeism (50 percent).

When working carers were asked which approach they would prefer if their organisation took steps to support them at work, 62 percent voted for minimal involvement in their personal lives, in which employees with caring responsibilities are empowered and given permission to respond as they need. Just 18 percent said they’d prefer a hand-holding response where their organisation was highly engaged in working carers. 11 percent voted for neither and 10 percent said they didn’t know.

McCartney continues: “We can see that many employers understand the business case for supporting working carers, and how it can positively impact retention, engagement and reduce absenteeism, all of which will bring big business benefits in the long term. Employers need to see working carers as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, and listening and understanding what they need from their employer is important. Although official policies for working carers will help to legitimise their place in the labour market, they need not be prescriptive and should focus on empowering individuals.”

David Capper, Westfield Health’s Executive Director – Commercial, said: “More than three million workers in the UK are providing informal care to older parents or dependents, and this figure is expected to rise, as many more employees are likely to find themselves in the ‘sandwich generation’ – balancing working commitment with caring for older family members and looking after their own children. Caring not only impacts heavily on employees’ working lives, particularly in terms of health and wellbeing, but can also seriously affect employers through rising levels of absence and falling levels of productivity.

Click here to read the report, Creating an enabling future for carers in the workplace

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