Supporting employees who are also carers

Nearly 6.5m people in the UK today are carers – that figure is expected to rise to nine million by 2037.

With two thirds of this number also working, Ben, the automotive charity, is trying to help employers support employees who are also carers.

A total of 625,000 people suffer with mental and physical ill health as a direct consequence of the stress and physical demands of caring. Therefore, said chief executive Zara Ross, Ben felt it was important to offer some insights to employers about supporting employees who are also carers.

She said, ‘Carers are a diverse group of people because every caring situation is different in nature. Carers can be adults caring for other adults, parents caring for their ill or disabled children or young carers under the age of 18 caring for a loved one. Anyone could be a carer (or become a carer) because people of all ages and circumstances have caring needs and people of any age can be disabled – or become disabled.

‘There are a variety of different caring situations, from children with ADHD and young adults caring for parents with addictions, right through to elderly relatives who have a physical disability or illness, like Alzheimer’s or dementia.

‘Some carers see themselves as a wife or husband, mother or father, partner, grandparent, child, friend or neighbour, rather than a carer. There are situations with multiple carers as part of a family or community network. The nature of these caring relationships means that care includes emotional, as well as physical support. Additionally, because of the nature of the illness and relationship, a care-giver may not be recognised as such by the person they are providing care to.’

Zara continued, ‘Some carers are not willing to share information about their caring responsibilities with their employer, since they worry that their commitment to their job will be questioned. Caring for someone can be physically exhausting and emotionally stressful, and often results in carers feeling unsupported, isolated and alone. These feelings can impact on a person’s overall health and wellbeing, particularly their mental health, which is likely to have a knock-on effect on their ability to work.

‘The stresses of full time work and then going home to be a carer can take its toll, so carers need regular respite to stay in good health. Carers may have to get up through the night to care for someone, which can make them physically tired and drained during working hours.’

She says there are many benefits to supporting an employee who is also a care-giver. Good, hard-working employees are an asset to a company so retaining these people will bring multiple business benefits.

‘By ensuring you look after your employees in this way can improve workplace morale and reduce stress and sickness absence. Showing that you are a flexible, caring employer is also good for the reputation of your business and can also attract staff, as well as retaining existing staff.  You can find out more about the business case for supporting carers in the workplace on the Carer Positive website.’

In terms of practical tips, Ben suggests listening to employees and letting them talk about their situation, being sympathetic and understanding. It says to focus on empathy in order to understand how it feels to be in the carer’s position and mitigate feelings of isolation, and to foster an open and inclusive culture where employees feel supported and empowered to respond to situations as they need to.

Another good tip is to offer flexible working patterns, enable them to take emergency leave (at short notice) when needed, offer training for managers and supervisors, read more on this subject in these resources by Personnel Today and Skills for Care, and to encourage them to request a free carer’s assessment with their local Adult Social Care department at the local authority – they may be entitled to a carer’s allowance.

Zara added, ‘As an employer, you have a responsibility to support your employees who are carers by making flexible arrangements. We can support you as an employer, work with your HR team as well as directly supporting your employee who is a carer. We can help offer respite to people who are carers, so refer your employee to us so we can support them. We have also put together a fact sheet called ‘Caring for yourself as a carer’, so you can share this with your employees.’

For more assistance, Ben’s confidential helpline is on 08081 311 333.