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Beyond the Bandwagon: Meaningful Support for Carers in the Workplace

March 4, 2024

There is a big bandwagon about to roll into Linkedin Town.... 

Before companies, HR/CSR leads jump on it, in advance of International Women's Day, please read this. Before we all post pics of us moving our hands into cute shapes, please think a little more deeply about a significant challenge facing women in your organisation, and how that affects the organisation itself. Are you truly inspiring inclusion?

  • The most recent Census 2021 puts the estimated number of unpaid carers at 5 million in England and Wales. Data for the whole of the UK suggestion the number was 5.7 and it's rising fast - expected to be well over 10 m today.

  • One in seven people in the workplace in the UK are juggling work and care (Carers UK, Juggling Work and Care, 2019) - again this is rising.

  • 59% of unpaid carers are women (Census 2021).

  • More women than men provide high intensity care at ages when they expect to be in paid work (Petrillo and Bennett, 2022).

I've often spoken of my own triangle of hell - working full time in a senior corporate leadership role in one county, with international travel, living in another county and suddenly trying to support ageing parents in a third as they became frail and descended into dementia at different rates. Whichever county I was in, I felt I needed to be in at least two others. I knew I was risking my career. I tried to apply a veneer of coping, although I was able to be open at work that I was suddenly a carer. I was unable to give my best anywhere. This directly led me to found Myfolks.

Does my story matter? Only because it and variations on it are being played out in your companies right now. 

And why does that matter? It matters because good employees are stressed out and exhausted. How can they be up all night with a wandering parent, for example, changing beds, doing another load of washing, remembering medications, trying to speak with the Memory Clinic at lunch time and putting in their usual shift, whilst keeping an eye on the camera they've had to have installed, wondering if their parent has eaten any lunch or whether they are too cold, wondering if they took their meds, all the while knowing the challenges will be there the next day and the one after that... Caring consumes time, money, energy, spontaneity, concentration and more.

So, one in 7 of your employees are grappling with something like that. How can they work to their usual standard? How is that impacting them? How is that impacting your bottom line?

Our ageing population is going to grow hugely in coming years, this problem is going to become even more widespread. So, before you're seen to celebrate IWD, what should you think about?

Should you weed out the carers in your organisation? Let them go? Encourage them to go?? If you do, you will lose so much corporate memory; you will have all the costs of recruitment, whilst we are in a war for talent, costs of rehiring, onboarding, building teams... and more than one in 7 of the new recruits will face the same challenges.... Back to square one, except now, there are fewer people in employment, fewer people with spending power and the economy your business operates in becomes even more challenging, when you're aiming for growth. 

To truly support IWD, the carers in your organisation (men too; they can feel even more isolated in the caring role) and your organisation itself, have a good think about your culture. Here is a list of things you should have positive answers to:

1. How many carers do you have?

2. Do you record this?

3. Do people feel safe to share that they are caring?

4. Do you ask how you could support them?

5. Have you trained your managers to cope with this professionally and sensitively?

6. Have you invited one or two carers who are open to tell your leadership team what a day-in-the-life looks like for them? (Who in your leadership team is also caring?).

7. What does your Carers' Policy look like? Have you made it great?

8. Do you have a senior sponsor or Carers Champion, who understands?

9. If performance suddenly drops off, or a person's sick days are suddenly increasing, could there be a hidden caring challenge going on?

10. Are you asking in exit interviews (or preferably before) whether caring is a concern for a regretted leaver?

11. You may be aware that the law has recognised that we face these challenges increasingly and so 5 days' Carers Leave is now law - are you publicising that and making your employees aware? The law already allows anyone legally classed as an employee to take time off to help a dependent with an emergency under the Employment Rights Act 1996. Do you embrace this?

12. Are you considering the impact on the rest of the team? If an employee feels (or is made to feel) that their team is picking up their slack all of the time, that will be damaging for the trust of the team, so how do you balance that out?

If you can't confidently answer yes to these, be open in your IWD statements that you're working on it and invite your carers to help. 

If you clearly show that your organisation supports carers and the teams they work in, you will be attractive as an employer and you will reap the business rewards of loyalty and inclusion, that's the bottom line.



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