There is a large portion of the UK workforce who also have caring responsibilities for family members with a disability, illness, mental health problem or those who simply need additional assistance as they get older.
According to the Work Foundation, the number of working caregivers is estimated to be 2.6 million people. As people work longer and later in life causing an ageing workforce, it’s likely this number will increase even more over time. This trend can present implications for employers.
Juggling caretaking responsibilities with career demands can take a physical, emotional and financial toll on workers - impacting productivity on the job. It can also increase the chance that valued, experienced employees leave their job to provide full-time care. Consider these seven practical ways employers can support working caregivers.
1. Remote working and flex scheduling
An Unum US-based consumer study on caregivers found transportation to appointments to be the caregiving task that may require the most time away from work. Offering remote working or flexible scheduling options can allow staff to better balance the demands of both work and caregiving.
It can also reduce presenteeism as staff can schedule their work time when they’re most focused on the task at-hand. Flexible and remote working options signal to employees that you recognise they have a life outside of work.
2. Employee Assistance Programmes
Caring can take a physical, emotional and financial toll on workers, and they often put the care of others before their own care. Leveraging EAPs can help manage or improve staff wellbeing. They’re also a first line of defence for issues that could escalate and impact productivity.
EAPs offer confidential counselling on a range of practical issues like money management and budgeting to anxiety and stress. They can also help with practical caregiving tasks, like researching local eldercare assistance, or emotional support. These services can provide crucial support with eldercare tasks, taking some of the burden off employees.
3. Financially focused benefits
Working carers are often relied on financially by those depending on them. Offering financially focused benefits can provide them with the means to build a strong financial foundation for themselves and those relying on them, and better prepare them for the unexpected.
Life insurance can provide a payout to beneficiaries should the worst happen. While it’s grim to think about, it’s important to help ensure employees’ families are provided for.
Income protection is another crucial coverage for when people are unable to work due to long-term illness or injury and can help maintain financial obligations during recovery. Workplace savings schemes can help employees regularly contribute to a nest egg.
4. Elder care vouchers
Many employers offer child care vouchers to offset caring costs. But with so many employees taking on elder caring responsibilities, consider expanding this benefit to also include elder care vouchers. It can help alleviate the cost of care and provide additional peace of mind for staff.
5. Specialised education
Consider bringing in an expert to provide specialised education to help employees cope with demands of looking after ageing family members. Seminars, workshops or online resources can all help normalise the conversation around caring and raise awareness about the demands associated with it.
Topics could include learning how to recognise the signs of problems associated with advancing age, preparing for the care of loved ones as their needs develop and change over time, or preparing emotionally for what’s ahead.
6. Bereavement training
When a person loses a loved one, it can have a profound impact on their emotional and mental state, making day-to-day work responsibilities difficult. Consider offering bereavement training for staff and managers so they can create a supportive environment for those in mourning.
There are several practical actions managers can take to make the leave process more respectful of the employee’s situation and return to work more successful.
Train managers on how to exercise compassion, communicate respectfully, and make the transition back to work a little easier for those who have lost a loved one.
7. Communication and awareness
Benefits are only valuable if employees know what’s on offer. Communicate benefits resources often and through a variety of channels for greater awareness. Include all employees, too, not just current carers, as life can change quickly, and employees can find themselves in a new situation at any point.
Also consider supporting charities, like Carers UK, to signal externally that working carers are recognised, welcomed and supported at your company and in your community. It’s also another good way for employees to be exposed to potential roles as a carer.
Working carers are a valuable population of the workforce, and providing customised support to this group can keep them engaged, motivated and productive because they can better balance work and life. It will also help you better tap the full potential of your workforce.
About Liz Walker
Liz Walker is the HR Director of Unum, a leading employee benefits provider offering Income Protection, Life insurance and Critical Illness, and corporate dental cover through the workplace, which help protect millions of working people and their families in the event of an illness or injury.