There are 6.5 million people in the UK who are carers. They are looking after a family member or friend who has a disability, mental or physical illness or who needs extra help as they grow older.
Many of these carers are in work, and are having to balance their caring responsibilities with their working lives. Some employees might not feel comfortable coming forward, so you may not even know if you have a carer in your workforce – especially as some might not see themselves as a carer, and rather as a parent, spouse, sibling or friend.
Caring is tough at the best of times. Caring while holding down a full or part-time job can be even tougher. So, here are some simple tips to help you support employees as best you can.
1. Listen, understand, action
Invest time into listening to and understanding the concerns of impacted employees, so you can take appropriate action to support them. For example – if they’re stressed and feeling overwhelmed, what kind of assistance would help things feel more manageable? Would they prefer to be left alone for a while? Or do they need someone to talk to, and some support reshuffling their workload?
All of this will differ from employee to employee, so it’s important that their line manager has a true understanding of what works best for their individual needs.
2. Be supportive
If an employee comes to you to talk about their carer responsibilities and/or struggles, be supportive. Talk to them, take the time to understand their situation and encourage them to be open – often, having this kind of two-way dialogue will help uncover easy solutions.
In addition, taking a positive and proactive approach will encourage others to come forward too.
3. Give a little back
As with any type of working relationship, it can’t be all take and no give. Whether it’s an early finish every now and then to make an appointment, freedom to take and make phone calls during working hours, or changing tasks or relaxing deadlines as and where you can – actively making the effort to make their lives easier when they need it can make all the difference.
4. Offer flexible working
If an employee’s been with you continuously for 26 weeks or more, they can apply for flexible working (it may soon become a day-one right). So, instead of waiting for them to request it, why not be proactive and offer them a flexible working arrangement to help them fulfil their caring responsibilities?
There are a number of different flexible working options, but the ability to work from home, compress hours, and change start or finish times are just a few that may help carers.
5. Set up support groups
The life of a carer can be lonely and isolating. They might be exhausted. They might be stressed. And they might feel like they’ve got the weight of the world on their shoulders.
Sometimes, it’s nice to know you’re not the only one in your position, and that’s certainly no different for employees who are carers. Whether it’s face to face, a forum, or some form of anonymous portal, consider facilitating a means for employees to get together and air their thoughts, struggles, and concerns, so they feel they have a support network to rely on in the workplace.
6. Point them to third parties
Whether it’s to a charity, counselling service, or their GP, make employees aware of external support network (either free or provided by the business) – such as an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). If an employee’s not comfortable talking about their situation in the workplace, this will help support them from afar and show them that they’re certainly not alone.
7. Lead by example
Everyone needs to be singing from the same hymn sheet to ensure a fair and consistent approach is followed at all times. So, it’s essential that your position towards supporting employees who are carers is implemented by your management team.
And that applies to you as the employer, too. A top-down approach has been proven to be incredibly important in bringing about real cultural change.
While it’s important to consider the needs of employees who are carers, it’s equally important to make sure employees who aren’t carers don’t feel hard that they’re being overlooked. Balance is key.
For example, if you let employees who are carers leave early now and then to get to appointments on time, it might be seen as unfair if you don’t let other employees get out a few minutes early to make appointments of their own.
The last thing you want to do is negatively impact the morale and engagement of the rest of your workforce, so try to be mindful of how others will see your support techniques, too.
While the number one priority is, and always should be, the welfare of your employees, there are a number of business benefits to going the extra mile when supporting your staff – such as:
Your employees are caring for their loved ones. You’re caring for your employees. But who’s caring for you? Us.
Here at Citation, we pride ourselves on our approachable, friendly and pragmatic team. When it comes to HR & Employment Law we’re the experts, and we’ll always be by your side to support you.
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