· Features

Employers must support working carers

A high proportion of workers act as informal carers to their loved ones and yet are missing out on much-needed support in the workplace

Companies have now realised that, in order to attract and retain talented employees, they have to offer adequate support to nurture their employees. Indeed, it is not enough to be a reputable company with great products or clients – employees want the right culture and to have good work/life balance.

However, recent research commissioned by WeMa Care suggests that there might be a blind spot in employers’ understandings of the needs of their employees. This blind spot is the struggle of working carers. The independent survey of 2,000 full-time workers in the UK found that almost one fifth (18%) of workers also provide some form of informal care to a loved one. And most of them have not told their employers of their situation, suggesting employees don’t feel comfortable discussing their caring responsibilities with their employer.

What’s more, the mental and physical strain of caring for a loved one appears to be taking its toll on many employees. Indeed, half say their workplace performance is hampered by the fact they also act as an informal carer, while 49% have taken sick days and lied about the reason for doing so in order to have time to care for a loved one.

Naturally, this means people are away from their desks, and so the trend is not only problematic for working carers, it is also having an effect on attendance and productivity. At times, the stress and exhaustion can become too much, and carers may feel forced to choose between employment and becoming an unpaid, full-time carer.

This worrying trend presents the question: could businesses, and more specifically HR teams, do more to support informal carers in the workplace? There certainly seems to be scope for improvement, given that 88% of informal carers claim their organisation offers no support whatsoever, meaning those who are already burdened (and likely, stressed) by caring for a loved one cannot rely on their employer at all.

The first, and perhaps most important step in addressing this issue is creating an environment where employees feel comfortable talking openly about their carer commitments. The benefit of nurturing such a culture is two-fold.

Primarily, it will destigmatise working carers, opening up a dialogue between colleagues and helping to reduce working carers’ feelings of isolation. Secondly, it means employers can be aware of which members of staff are struggling with caring and may need additional support.

From a business perspective, open and honest discussions about the ongoing commitments of working carers will also pave the way for positive structural change. Whether it’s introducing flexible working hours, or even helping the employee find alternative care service providers, thereby enabling them to come to work without the guilt of leaving their loved one home alone, encouraging open discussions will help HR implement policies that support the entire workforce. And a supported workforce leads to higher workplace performance.

For most employers, the physical and mental health of their employees is always of paramount importance. Thankfully, the mental health revolution of the past few years has penetrated deep into business world. However, we now know more can be done to ensure the entire workforce receives adequate support. Admittedly, for many organisations, especially large ones, providing support will be a huge undertaking and will require implementation of new systems and structures to support staff from the very highest level. Yet, it will mean more help for thousands of staff members across the globe.

Whether others will pursue a solution to this issue remains to be seen. But firms that do so with vigour will reap the rewards of a happier and healthier workforce and more productive organisation.

Vivek Patni is CEO and founder of WeMa