Social care has been at the forefront of the news in recent weeks, thanks to the election shedding some light on the number of people who are forced to work in addition to caring for loved ones. As a result, employers are now being encouraged to do more to support employees affected by this.
What impact is the social care crisis having on working carers?
The 2017 election raised many questions in relation to the role of working carers. A working carer is an individual who provides unpaid support whilst also being in full- or part-time employment. They may be supporting a relative, partner or a friend who needs special assistance due to a physical or mental illness, a disability, or because of old age.
We now know that the number of employees who also act as carers with no additional financial support is on the up. With the current crisis in social funding, this is unlikely to rectify itself as life expectancy continues to increase.
How many people fall into this category?
The UK Carers charity estimates that no less than 3,000,000 people have fallen into the role of working carer, which is the equivalent of one-ninth of the working population. With such a staggering number of people affected, the question on everyone’s lips is whether this is a problem for the workplace or whether it is up to employees to balance work with their caring responsibilities?
Why should employers act?
With just 13% of employees allegedly aware of employees who care for another individual in their spare time who is not their dependent, many of these people appear to be successfully balancing the two. Whether an employee is open about their circumstances or they choose to effectively moonlight as a carer, each has a right to some level of moral and financial support.
The problem is that many working carers find it hard to talk about their pressured lifestyle because they do not know how their employer will react or they are worried they will not understand their circumstances. This leads to a lose-lose situation for all involved, as employees are left feeling stressed whilst their bosses become increasingly concerned over the level of engagement and productivity they are showing.
What can employers do to support and retain employees?
Some organisations are realising the reality of the struggles faced by working carers and are committed to not letting these get in the way of career progression. It is also more cost effective to retain talent than to lose a key worker; therefore, greater support for working carers is the best way forward.
Employers need to start by showing empathy to staff in these circumstances. Benefits such as employee assistance plans and financial education help could also be extremely valuable to carers and should made completely transparent and accessible.
Aside from financial support, employees should be willing to offer flexible working hours wherever possible to take some pressure off those employees who have a duty of care to someone else.
It is time for HR teams and organisations to recognise this issue and act to support those affected.
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