One of the effects of the UK’s ageing population is that more and more people are juggling work with caring responsibilities. Mental health charity, Mind defines a carer as someone who provides support and care for someone who has an illness, disability, mental health problem, or addiction.
While caring can be hugely rewarding, it can impact significantly on many areas of life, including wellbeing. Mental health is a big factor, with stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, and financial worries being commonly reported among carers.
What does this mean for carers at work?
It’s estimated that there are currently 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK. And this makes up a significant proportion of the UK workforce, with around one in nine working people, caring for someone else. Yet, not everyone with caring responsibilities identifies themselves as a carer, so this number could actually be a lot higher.
Research shows that one in five unpaid carers leaves or turns down a job because of caring responsibilities1, and over half (57%) feel that their caring responsibilities negatively affect their wellbeing2. This has huge impacts on the workplace, in that employers could be losing talent because carers feel their job is unmanageable alongside caring. And working carers who feel their wellbeing is affected, can’t perform at their best.
It can be hard for working carers to find the guidance and emotional support they need. Indeed, 71% of carers report feelings of isolation and loneliness in the workplace3. But employers are well positioned to support working carers, helping to positively impact the individual, and the business. Here are three ideas to help you support carers in the workplace:
1. Employee assistance programmes
Offer an employee assistance programme (EAP) that provides access to advice and counselling services. This allows employees to speak confidentially to a trained counsellor. EAPs are an invaluable source of support for working carers, who could be struggling with a mental health concern, or are seeking information on a care-related issue. Many of these services are available on a 24/7 basis, so busy carers can reach help at a convenient time.
2. Support groups
Consider setting up a support group, or employee network, for working carers in your organisation. Enabling carers to get together, share their advice for balancing caring and working responsibilities, or simply talk about their experiences with people in the same boat, can be very supportive. You could also facilitate an online support group, which could be a better option for carers who might be working away from the workplace.
3. Flexible working
Remind carers in your workforce how to request flexible working, if they need it, and what the options are. Adjustments to working patterns, such as remote working, reduced hours, or flexitime allow carers to structure their working day around things like appointments for the person they care for, or a particular caring routine.
As people live for longer, and stay in the workplace longer, it’s likely that the number of working carers in the UK will grow. Caring is a huge responsibility and its effects on wellbeing shouldn’t be underestimated by employers. Providing support for working carers doesn’t need to be difficult; these methods are probably already part of your wellbeing strategy, and will help carers in your workplace better manage their work alongside caring for their loved ones.
1. Caring and Isolation in the Workplace report, Carers UK, 2015
2. Key facts about carers and the people they care for, Carers Trust, available at: https://carers.org/key-facts-about-carers-and-people-they-care
3. Simplyhealth/YouGov Everyday Health Tracker, Sep 2017. A nationally representative sample of 1,974 UK adults aged 18+. Fulltime workers: 768. Respondents aged 75 and over: 63