Need to know:
- Societal changes, especially the ageing workforce, means supporting working carers is a key issue for employers.
- Employers should take stock of caring requirements within their organisations to ensure staff receive relevant and valuable support.
- Well-tailored benefits packages could help an organisation to win the race to hire and retain talented staff.
The changing nature of society, especially the ageing population, means employers should think cleverly about the benefits they offer to different generations within the workforce. Working flexibly while caring for families is not only the future way of working, it also makes good business sense, says Ben Black, director at My Family Care. “Employers need to compete in smart ways with [organisations] like Google which have embraced this from the start,” he adds.
Nick Boyton, risk and flexible benefits client relationship director at Broadstone, says: “There is more of a race for talent at the moment. Employers need to think about attracting a diverse workforce that gives them the best possible chance of thriving.”
Society’s changing composition means that the benefits employers can offer to employees at different stages in their lives will become increasingly important. Tony Wood, head of Mercer’s employee health and benefits business, says: “One in three of the UK workforce will be over the age of 50 by 2020 and one in nine workers will be a carer. That will have a significant impact on corporate Britain.”
According to Mercer’s Age-friendly employer research, published in October 2015, 84% of organisations are unsure of how to respond to the challenges of an ageing workforce.
It is also a diversity issue because it is often women who are most likely to give up their careers and become carers, says Wood. “From a talent management point of view, organisations are worried about their female population, keeping them in the workplace and helping them feel supported,” he explains.
The good news is that there are quick wins employers can introduce. “There’s not going to be a mass flock back towards paternalism,” says Wood. “Employers can’t afford to pick up costs but they want to facilitate employees’ access to information and advice.”
Starting the conversation
The first step is to take stock of the workforce in order to understand how the caring responsibilities among generations differ. Chris Minett, managing director at the Positive Ageing Company, says: “It’s about recognising who in the organisation it is going to be most relevant to, [using] webinars and seminars to help self-identification and forecasting what demographic changes are going to take place.”
That process will help employers to maximise the value of solutions on offer. Andrew Drake, head of reward and benefits at JLT Employee Benefits, says: “Understand how many people have an issue with eldercare. If [employers] have, say, £20,000 to spend and [they] can do something that’ll impact 500 people or 2,000 people, it’s a no-brainer, right?”
Second, employers should consider what they can do to improve their existing offering. Flexible working may be well-established in many workplaces, but there are still some gaps.
Another example of a quick win is setting up a knowledge-sharing network for employees. This could sit within the organisation’s intranet and, for instance, be used to share details of new technology solutions.
The sandwich generation
Many employers will find that a large proportion of their workforce fall into the sandwich generation: that demographic of employees that support both children and elderly parents.
Organisations can offer a range of benefits to support this squeezed generation, such as on-site nurseries, emergency childcare and eldercare. Changes to childcare vouchers mean that the government’s tax-free childcare scheme will replace voucher schemes from 2017, so employers may look for other support options. “There are lots of [employers] that ticked the box by offering childcare vouchers,” says Black. “In 2017 every [organisation] is going to have to sit up and say ‘We’re not doing anything anymore, what should we be doing?’”
Back-up childcare is a growing area. Black says: “Every parent will favour a different emergency solution, whether it’s a good local nursery or a brilliant nanny who can come to their house quickly. The best emergency arrangements work where you match supply with demand.”
Meanwhile, eldercare is an emerging offering for most employers and benefits consultants alike. Wood says: “There is a lack of facilities and solutions. We are working with government on this and government hasn’t got the answer yet either.”
Eldercare should be tailored to employees’ needs and help them find a care solution, whether it is domiciliary care, finding a care home, or helping them access available funding.
It sounds expensive but it does not have to cost a fortune, says Black. “ There are loads of co-pay arrangements. The important thing for the employer to do is to offer [these] in the first place.”
Centrica considers whole family experience to support carers
Utility firm Centrica, which owns British Gas, is one pioneer in the field of eldercare.
Alison Hughes, Centrica’s head of HR policy and diversity, says: “Historically, we had a family leave policy that was focused on childcare: maternity and paternity.”
While still focused on making parents’ lives easier, Centrica decided to look at the whole family experience.
“One of the policies we have in place is carers’ leave for somebody who has eldercare responsibilities or responsibility for a disabled child,” says Hughes.
Centrica’s staff can take advantage of up to one month’s matched paid leave every year.
For example, if an employee looking after a parent after a stay in hospital for several days took two days of annual leave, then Centrica would match that two days. “It gives people that extra support and time off, and also means people aren’t using up all their annual leave for caring responsibilities,” says Hughes.
The policy has been hugely popular with staff.
Centrica also helps its carer employees by allowing them to work flexibly. That could mean working from home or altering their working hours on a temporary basis.
Wellbeing in the round is also important. Just over 12 months ago, Hughes and her team introduced a new platform called the Centrica Work and Family Save.
Hughes says: “It gives our employees access to a wealth of information on very current issues, whether it’s changes to childcare vouchers and what that means in practice or a webinar series on things such as eldercare issues or children and technology. We work with an external partner to provide that. From an engagement point of view, that’s been really successful for us.”
Viewpoint: Employers cannot afford to ignore working carers
Three million people in the UK combine working with caring for a disabled person, someone seriously ill or an older loved one, according to the 2011 census. Without the right support, the stress and pressure of juggling work and care can force people to leave their jobs.
People aged between 40 and 49 are the most likely to leave the workforce, or reduce their hours, to care. This is the time when many people are raising families, while their ageing parents are starting to need increasing levels of support.
This is also the age when many people are at the peak of their careers, meaning that leaving the workforce at this time can have a serious impact on future career prospects, lifetime earnings and pensions. That’s not to mention the significant impact on business, which loses experienced, skilled workers and incurs greater costs, a growing concern in an increasingly competitive skills market.
Supporting carers in the workplace makes good business sense. Small changes can lead to greater staff retention, less absence, improved performance and a healthier bottom line. Areas that employers should consider include updating HR policies to take into account wider caring issues, such as offering flexible working hours and care leave; supporting line managers to identify employees who have caring responsibilities, such as including information about caring in relevant manager training programmes and supporting materials such as toolkits; setting up a staff carers network to enable employees with caring responsibilities to support one another.
Employers could also let employees know about carer-friendly policies and practices through staff communications, and signpost employees to external information for further advice and support.
In the current economic climate, there has never been a more important time to retain skilled workers and support employees to work healthily and productively. With the cost to businesses, if not addressed, of £3.5 billion every year, according to Carers UK’s Care Leave: impact on business report, published in July 2014, the issue of supporting people to manage work and care is one that none of us can afford to ignore.
Katherine Wilson is strategic manager at Employers for Carers, Carers UK