Need to know:
- A formal caring policy can help to bolster support for carers in the workplace.
- Benefits such as an employee assistance programme (EAP) or childcare vouchers can be used to support an existing caring policy.
- Flexible-working arrangements, as well as paid or unpaid leave, are popular aspects of a successful caring policy.
Changing workplace cultures and employee demographics are having a significant effect on how caring policies will need to be formed in the future and what they should include.
Only 26% of employers have a formal written caring policy for staff in place, according to the Creating an enabling future for carers in the workplace report, published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and Westfield Health in June 2016. A further 8% have an informal, verbal agreement around caring, while 38% do not have any caring policies in place and have no plans to implement one.
Caring policies in 2016, and indeed moving forwards, need to have a greater scope than ever before, with evolving employee demographics presenting a host of challenges. The definition of caring has moved beyond just working parents, with growing recognition of the requirements of employees who may have to provide support or arrange care for elderly parents, a disabled or seriously ill spouse or adult child, or relatives who have chronic physical conditions.
Rachel Suff, public policy advisor for employment relations at the CIPD, says: “This is such a growing issue in organisations and with the ageing population, so many of us at some stage are going to develop a chronic illness or disability. It’s a hidden issue a lot of the time, so employers aren’t aware.”
Employers should look to embrace wider working practices that help employees manage both home and work responsibilities, says Julian Foster, managing director at Computershare. “It’s understanding what the drivers and the demands on employees’ time are away from the workplace,” he explains. “If people are worrying about something or are struggling to balance the two, then they’re not going to be as focused or as effective as they might be.
“Policies have got to anticipate future demands and make sure workload is met. We need to look at what is happening in terms of the generational expectations, the expectations of how many hours people will work or what days. Working patterns are going to change.”
Freedom to be flexible
There are many strategies employers can take to help support the needs of carers within the workforce, however, flexibility often forms the cornerstone of a carers’ policy. The aforementioned CIPD and Westfield Health report found that the most common form of support provided by employers are flexible leave arrangements (49%) and flexible working arrangements (48%). This could include job sharing, reduced or changed hours, and home working.
Paid and unpaid leave are another way to support employees who have commitments away from work. Some organisations use a mix of annual leave, special leave or compassionate leave to help cover carers who need time off, says Andrew Supple, head of healthcare and protection solutions at Standard Life.
Organisations may also need to extend this flexible approach to include how employees spend their time at work. Having access to their mobile during the day and also having the leeway to make personal calls during working hours can be immensely helpful to employees, especially if they are arranging care for a relative who lives further afield.
Support through benefits
Employers can make best use of a number of benefits schemes to further support the caring policies they have in place. Employee assistance programmes (EAPs) are now including more information on both eldercare and childcare options, while emergency child and parental care are also becoming emerging options. Staff can also gain information through dedicated platforms and resources, such as webinars.
Childcare vouchers will be phased out over the coming years, closing to new entrants in April 2018, to be replaced with the government’s tax-free childcare scheme from 2017.
Practicalities such as a dedicated car parking space and a laptop to enable home working can also help carers juggle their daily working routines.
With people generally living longer, eldercare is slowly becoming a feature of the modern workplace. One issue that can impact employees is if they have moved away from home for work, or their elderly relatives have retired elsewhere, making it physically difficult to provide care first-hand. This is where the flexibility of a caring policy can be tested. “[Eldercare is] just not a very visible issue in the workplace and that’s partly down to employers not seeing it as a strategic issue affecting their workforce capability,” says Suff. “We need to make it much more visible as an issue in organisations and much more of a legitimate workplace issue that should be discussed and dealt with and then [employers will] get more people feeling they can raise issues around it.”
The CIPD and Westfield Health report found that only 13% of line managers are trained to help support staff who are carers. But managers can be a vital point of contact for employees with caring responsibilities, and they should be open to having conversations about personal issues. “Having the opportunity for employees to actually talk to their managers about what they need and what would work for them, and working together to see how that would work for the business so there isn’t a pull between work and family, is really important,” says Foster.
When an organisation’s senior leadership team champions caring policies, this can really help to ensure that these become a framework within the workplace and aid in raising awareness. “[This means] managers understanding it and living and breathing it,” explains Foster.
Other strategies employers could utilise include giving carers access to counselling facilities such as EAPs, as well as facilitating both internal and external networks so carers can have peer-to-peer conversations with others in similar situations. This could include social media groups, an intranet page, or physical meetings, as well as on-site talks and seminars delivered by experts and charities.
Impact on health and wellbeing
Providing an empowering and inclusive culture for carers is an essential aspect of any caring policy, but policies can also be interlinked with health and wellbeing strategies to offer a more proactive approach. This could include tackling mental health issues such as stress.
Rachel Western, principle at Aon Employee Benefits, says: “Wellness strategies have to be very bespoke. If the workforce is an ageing workforce, the wellness strategies need to be very different, and need to be focusing, not on things [such as] high-level fitness processes, but more about long-term care initiatives.”
A one-size-fits-all approach to supporting workers does not suit every organisation; each individual’s circumstances need to be considered. “Employers have to recognise that employees have a life outside of work and [organisations] need to support their staff to achieve a healthy work-life balance,” says Foster. “By offering things [such as] flexible working and childcare vouchers as a package, not just as one measure, it enables organisations to recruit and retain people but also to have them engaged in the organisation, motivated and productive.”
Western describes caring policies of the future as looking like an ‘open-ended book’. As the number of carers, as well as the type and extent of their caring responsibilities, in the workplace increases, it is imperative that organisations have a formal structure in place to deal with the array of individual needs.
Viewpoint: Ageing population intensifies need for caring policies
One in nine workers in the UK care for a family member or friend who is older, disabled or ill, according to the 2011 Census. The pressures of juggling work and care, without the right support from employers or local services, have forced millions of people to give up work or reduce their hours to care, at a cost to the economy of £1.3 billion a year, according to the London School of Economics’ study, Public expenditure costs of carers leaving employment, published in April 2012.
The business case for supporting working carers is clear; it leads to greater staff retention, less absenteeism, improved resilience, performance and productivity, and a healthier bottom line.
Significant developments in employee rights in recent years mean that there is also a strong legal case for supporting working carers. All employees with 26 weeks’ service for their employer now have the right to request flexible-working arrangements and time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. Carers are also entitled to greater protection against discrimination because of their caring responsibilities.
By recognising carers’ legal rights in existing policies and procedures, or in a specific carers policy, employers can begin to future-proof their business against the challenges of an ageing workforce and an increasingly competitive economic environment.
While many employers have put the building blocks in place to support employees who currently have or may have caring responsibilities in the future, many employers still have a long way to go.
Our ageing population means that the already significant number of people combining work and care is set to soar. This, alongside growing evidence about the negative impact that caring, if unsupported, can have on staff resilience, productivity, and retention, means that caring is an issue businesses cannot afford to ignore.
Katherine Wilson is strategic employment manager at Carers UK
KPMG uses employee-led networks to drive caring initiatives
Audit, tax and advisory organisation KPMG utilises a range of measures to put employees in the driving seat when it comes to formulating and structuring initiatives that support working carers and parents within the workplace. Of the organisation’s 12,000 total employees across 22 UK-based sites, 6,483 have declared they are working parents, while informal surveys estimate that one in six employees is a carer.
Many of its initiatives have come via feedback from a comprehensive employee network system. The networks available are diversity-related or link to a specific need, with two of the most prominent networks focusing on support for carers and parents. Each network regularly holds virtual or physical sessions arranged to allow employees with similar responsibilities to come together, whether for a sandwich and chat lunchtime meet up or a guest speaker session.
The individual networks also have a partner sponsor, who takes key concerns and ideas to the HR department or executive board. Martin Blackburn, head of HR at KPMG, says: “It’s not an HR thing; it’s very much an employee-led thing. We want them to have a conduit into the executive team.”
There is also a dedicated ‘My Family’ themed-section on KPMG’s intranet, which details information such as leave policies, issues such as fertility and adoption, and the organisation’s emergency dependents’ care programme. This provides emergency care for employees with a dependent, whether a child, adult or elderly dependent.
Rather than flexible-working arrangements, KPMG has an intelligent working policy in place. The policy outlines that, as long as an employee completes their agreed workload, KPMG does not specify what days or hours they must work to achieve it. Blackburn says: “If you’ve got a caring responsibility, and that means you’re going to be working at home, or you’re not going to be working, [but] you’re going to be delivering that output later in the week [instead], that’s fine.”
KPMG’s award-winning Parent Power scheme, provided in partnership with My Family Care, aims to support employees who are embarking on, or are about to return from, maternity leave; a topic that was raised by the organisation’s parenting network. The programme provides access to online resources, including group coaching webinars.
The scheme was first piloted in July 2015 with 114 participants, and was officially launched in June 2016. “Our aim was to create a culture that was supportive of colleagues, enabling them to achieve their personal and professional ambitions,” says Blackburn.