Making your company ‘carer friendly’ | Erica Wolfe-Murray

Elderly grandmother with crutch and granddaughter in spring nature, carer

It is Carers’ Week this week – 6th – 12th June. But it really should be Carers’ Year.

The pandemic has highlighted how much we need to help each other, to support each other every day, every week. Both at work and at home. But for many – caring will not come to an end once we’re all out of lockdown.

They are the vast army of people who have 24/7 caring responsibilities for family or community members. Often they stepped into the shoes of ‘carer’ because there was no-one else available. Giving up much loved jobs, positions in companies, even moving home to take on an often difficult and lonely role. Research shows that you are as likely to become a carer as you are a home-owner. And the gender divide is stark. Women have a 50:50 chance of becoming a carer at the age of 46, whereas for men it’s 57.

So how can we as business owners help those who are looking after someone, whether in the short or longer term? What can companies do to support those employees who have to take a career break to care for someone?  I spoke to Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK.

With an average of 600 people giving up work every day to take on a carer’s role, this is a real waste of talent. Many those who face caring responsibilities are fearful about having the conversation with their employers about whether support is available. And those who do have to leave their job, see themselves moving from a vibrant contributor to the workplace and economy to being on its fringes. They lose colleagues, friends as well as money. Carers at home receive just £67 per week support. This can have a devastating impact on your personal perception and mental health.

Set up a carers’ policy

Just as most companies have a maternity/paternity policy – putting a carers’ policy in place is a good first step. How can you help your employee and what can they expect from you?

Carers UK has an Employers for Carers pack which helps organisations develop a carer-friendly model. With their research showing is costs 18 months of salary to replace and train someone in senior management, yet the average caring time lasting around two years, it can be as cost-effective to support the team member through their caring duties than to replace them.

Ask what they can do, don’t assume they can’t

Some carers are able to work at various levels during their time looking after their vulnerable charge. The discussion should focus around what work a team member is able to do, rather than what they are unable to do.

Many companies, employers and employees have seen the benefits of working from home during the pandemic, with a step change happening across society as a whole. Perhaps you can adapt an employee’s role to enable more home working as part of their job, giving them greater flexibility and allowing them to choose how and when they work.

This can work particularly well for SMEs. With an average staff size of eight people and everyone contributing to the workplace in a more informal, flexible style of work, losing a key employee to caring responsibilities can be hard. How much better to adapt everyone’s roles accordingly to keep them as a valued employee, just in a different space?

Introduce paid care leave

Caring at home is set to grow, particularly after we’ve seen the devastating effect of the pandemic within care homes.  For many moving into caring roles, they are not needed fulltime but to support hospital visits, or other key medical calendar dates. Can you introduce paid care leave for those that need it, rather than it eating into their much-needed holiday allowance?

Centrica offers ten days paid annual care leave to employees with caring responsibilities, but finds on average only 2-3 days get taken. Carers UK notes that companies that introduce better conditions find they are rarely abused.

Need someone part-time? Consider a carer

I work with many SMEs who during their growth trajectory need part-time employees of all kinds. There may be research required, book-keeping needs, a part-time FD, or work for a regular copy-writer. Looking to carers to fulfil these shorter day or part-time requirements can make perfect sense.

I’ve found the SMEs gain someone who is well-qualified, organized and happy to be part of a team, and the carer brings skill-sets that may have been developed during their caring work, such as juggling routines, taking on additional responsibilities for medicines, tenacity in dealing with social services and so on.

Support carers coming back into your team

If you are welcoming someone who has been caring for another back into your team, do think about how you can best support them as they re-enter the workplace. They make be grieving, have lost confidence, be concerned about skill depletion or integrating with new team members. Carers UK offers a ‘Learning for Living’ resource for just this situation. See the link below.

Let’s continue to support our carers, whether they are in the NHS, in care homes or behind close doors within our own communities. As owners of companies, there is so much we can do to ensure they feel valued within the world of work, not just because of their compassion. Taking some simple steps now in your company’s attitude, through your policies and your employment practice can make a real difference to a carer’s future prospects.

Erica Wolfe MurrayAbout the author:

Erica Wolfe-Murray works across the creative, cultural and tech sector helping companies to innovate through imaginative use of their intellectual assets/IP.  Referred to by as ‘a leading innovation and business expert’, she is the author of ‘Simple Tips, Smart Ideas : Build a Bigger, Better Business’, finalist in the Business Book Awards 2020. It’s full of easy-to-use advice on innovative ways to grow your business and is available from Foyles, Amazon and all other good bookshops.

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