The Invisible Carer: Employers need to do more to help their caring workforce

New research from My Family Care and the Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion (enei) has found that UK businesses are not doing enough to support their caring workforce – therefore running the risk of a talent retention crisis.  In a survey of 1,000 consumers and 100 employers, the study found that 40% of carers don’t get the support they need from friends, family and their employer and only 38% of employers monitor the caring responsibilities of their workforce.

Despite the need for more support for carers at work, there were some positive results from employers. Of the 100 HR managers surveyed, one in three (33%) said they had specific policies or communications in place targeting carers at work, and most of the organisations had wider benefits that would support carers, with the most popular methods of support being:

  • Access to an employee helpline or assistance programme (80%)
  • A culture that is supportive of flexibility (80%)
  • Provision of technology to work remotely (77%)
  • Paid time off to deal with family emergencies (71%)

While work/life-balance and the reconciliation of family and working life with regard to parenting are often associated with Diversity & Inclusion nowadays, the compatibility of work and care is rather beyond the traditional D&I portfolio but nonetheless of high importance for both employees and employers. Inclusiveness could and should also apply to employees in specific situations such as caring responsibilities.

The survey of 1,000 consumers found that many felt that while their employers focussed heavily on the childcare responsibilities of their workforce, very few had procedures in place for those carers of parents, grandparents, siblings or partners. 35% of employees said they rarely or never have any kind of support network available to them – unlike new parents who tend to build a network of people going through the same ‘ages and stages’ as them.

Almost 7 million adults in the UK are providing unpaid care to a sick, disabled (of any age) or elderly person. Over 3 million people combine this care with paid work, which means around 1 in 9 of the UK workforce has caring responsibilities. The rise in pension age and an ageing population means the number is growing rapidly.

Ben Black, Director of My Family Care says: “This research really highlights the need for businesses to find out who of their staff are caring for loved ones and may be in need of extra help.“ He explains that the rise of the ‘invisible carer’ was a very current thing which was only going to get worse as the population ages and more and more people will have to balance work with their caring responsibilities.

“A big thing that came out of our research was the sheer diversity of their caring responsibilities – what they do, how they do it, who they care for, how many hours are involved and how they feel about it,” Black adds. The study shows that working parents are easy for employers to spot, whereas carers of parents, grandparents, partners or siblings come in all shapes and sizes and often feel uncomfortable talking about their private lives at work. For this reason, the authors state, it is very important for businesses to reach out to find out more about their employees as otherwise they risk losing their very best talent.

The research also found that employees felt their line managers were key to helping them balance work and family, while many wanted access to more flexibility. However, more than half (52%) of carers were concerned that flexible working would adversely affect their career progression, with 63% of people thinking that those who work flexibly could be seen as less committed by their company or colleagues. “This result is in contrast with the proclaimed position of employers saying they had a culture that supports flexibility”, Diversity expert Michael Stuber comments on two distinct results from the research.

Debbie Rotchell from enei (The Employers Network for Equality & Inclusion) adds: “This research shows that employers are keen to support carers at work but there is still a gap between what carers would like and what employers currently provide.” Results found a wide range of approaches from tailored policies and procedures to no formal guidance for carers.

“There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to supporting carers in the workplace but it’s certainly a good start when organisations know who their carers are and talk to them about the support they would like”, Rotchell concludes. With an ageing population and an increase in people with caring responsibilities, employers and employees had to find a way of working together and talking openly about their issues in order to find the best solutions.