May 2016 saw the launch of the Creating longer, more fulfilling working lives: employer practice in five European countries report, conducted by the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) on behalf of the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD). This looks at how other countries are adjusting to lengthening lifespans and changing demographics, how the UK compares, and whether certain practices might be adapted to the UK landscape for the benefit of employers and employees.
The CIPD suggests that employers view the ageing workforce as an opportunity rather than a challenge, which can be facilitated by measures such as increased flexibility, support for those caring for an elderly or ill dependant, re-shaping attitudes towards older workers and retirement, line manger training, health and wellbeing support, and mid-life career reviews.
Of course, the support offered through some of the suggested measures would be welcomed by a cross-section of the working population, not just older employees. Take caring responsibilities for instance. According to the Employee Benefits/Xerox HR Services Benefits research 2016, published in June 2016, just 8% of respondents include emergency eldercare within their employee benefits offering, and only 1% provide non-emergency eldercare support to staff. Yet Carers UK’s State of caring 2016 report, published in May 2016, found that half (49%) of respondents left work to care, 23% reduced the number of hours they work, and 17% took a less qualified role or turned down a promotion. The reasons for doing so include insufficient leave being made available at work (16%), inability to negotiate suitable working hours (18%), the high cost of care services (21%), and the stress of juggling working and caring (69%).
Caring benefits and flexible-working policies could play a key role here, but practical elements are not the only way in which employers could lend a helping hand. Providing employees with access to emotional, financial and physical wellbeing support can also help working carers to manage their own mental and physical health. This also brings benefits for organisations in the form of more engaged and productive employees, as well as the retention of skills.
The launch of the CIPD’s Creating longer, more fulfilling working lives report was accompanied by a panel discussion, which later opened up questions to the floor. An interesting question was posed by one audience member: why don’t we hear of senior business leaders juggling work and caring responsibilities? He pointed out that high-profile figures had spoken publicly about their experiences with mental ill-health, thereby shining a spotlight on mental health in the workplace and helping to open up the conversation and chip away at the taboo surrounding the topic; could such role models achieve the same for working carers?
Indeed, the contribution of visible senior leadership to the success of workplace initiatives and culture change should not be underestimated. Helping to bring the conversation about caring responsibilities to the fore, or at least further into the open, could pay dividends for organisations and staff alike. With Carers UK estimating that the carer population will reach nine million by 2037, encouraging that conversation and putting in place support mechanisms for those who require them cannot come soon enough.