THE IMPORTANCE OF CARING TO THE UK ECONOMY
Next week, the annual campaign to raise awareness of caring in the UK will take place, highlighting the challenges unpaid carers face and recognising the contribution they make to families and communities. Carers Week also helps people who don't think of themselves as having caring responsibilities to identify as carers and access much-needed support.
Whilst the issues faced by carers in the workforce may not be at the forefront of business concerns, it is sobering to note that the number of carers in the UK is set to rise from six million currently (or ten per cent of the population) to over nine million over the next 30 years.
More concerning for many employers, the peak age for caring is between the ages of 45 and 64, a time when many employees have gained important skills, expertise and experience and are considered valuable to the future development of the business.
The fact that only 64 per cent of carers are likely to be in the workplace (as compared to 74 percent for all adults) suggests that the economy is losing out on this valuable source of future employees. In fact, 47 per cent of those carers who had experience of working and caring more have given up their job to care for someone who is older, living with a disability or seriously ill.
A recent study by the charity Carers Wales has examined some of the challenges faced by carers in the workplace and came up with some startling facts about the current situation.
For example, many SMEs do not feel confident in their knowledge of carers’ rights with most employers simply not aware of support available in the wider community. Whilst some employers felt they provided opportunities for carers to self-identify, very few were actively seeking to identify or understand carer’s responsibilities with little training being provided to staff on this issue.
So what do employers need to do to support carers and maximise their contribution to the organisation going forward?
According to Carers Wales, the five key factors that would carers feel more supported in the workplace were a carers policy, flexible working practices, paid care leave, flexible/short notice leave and carers awareness training for managers.
In addition, it is essential that carers feel able to discuss their caring role, without judgement, fear or without having a detrimental impact on their job role or the opportunity for advancement and promotion.
More relevantly, the research identified a number of good practice approaches which point the way towards providing a carer friendly work environment among Welsh employers.
As with other flexible work practices, organisations need to lead from the top. Where senior management is able to demonstrate understanding and empathy of the carer’s role, other employees feel safe to open up about caring responsibilities.
However, this culture needs to be supported throughout the organisation with flexible work practices, supportive recruitment policies (such as promotion of flexible working in job adverts) and carer identification. In particular, organisations need to strive towards creating a carer friendly environment where recognition of caring is visible and carers feel able to be open about their role away from work.
This need to be supplemented by carer awareness training for managers, clarifying carers policy (and other supportive policies) in practice, providing guidance on how caring can be sensitively discussed and enabling managers to signpost to another support framework.
Providing a support network for the carers themselves, through enabling carers to meet face-to-face to share experiences and provide peer support, can be a tremendous boost to this agenda. This could include the promotion of assistive technology, such as the use of remote monitoring, smart switches and automated medication reminders that can provide the working carer with peace of mind enabling them to focus better on their work.
Finally, and most importantly, there needs to be a culture of openness, understanding, approachability and inclusiveness which counters certain situations where a lack of understanding by an employer can lead to feelings of resentment and suspicions that liberties are being taken.
Of course, much remains to be done to ensure that employers are fully supported to create carer friendly workplaces which integrate all of the practices above into their workforce strategies. That is why Carers Wales has proposed that there should be a single point of contact open to all employers across all sectors for bespoke and expert advice, training and guidance.
Such a hub, once established, could promote the adoption of carer friendly practices across Wales through targeted campaigns and events across all sectors as well as the provision of online resources to promote the availability of information, guidance and advice.
Certainly, supporting carers within the workplace can be highly beneficial for carers, employers and society more broadly and it would be something really special for Wales if we could ensure that this becomes a priority not only for Welsh Government but for the business community as a whole.