Carers UK estimates that there are currently six and a half million carers in the UK - a number that continues to rise. One in nine of your workforce will be a carer. More than four million carers provide up to 19 hours of unpaid care for a family member or friend each week and of these, more than three million are still in paid work. Many carers struggle to balance their work and caring responsibilities, others feel they have to make a choice between the two. Caring for someone is not only physically exhausting, but emotionally stressful, with such pressures resulting in many carers feeling unsupported, isolated and alone.
All employees have emotional wellbeing and on a daily basis this fluctuates along a spectrum. Supporting staff with their emotional wellbeing needs is not only the right thing to do as a responsible employer, but also has a positive impact on the provision of quality patient care.
As an example, offering a flexible working approach could enable carers to carry on working effectively. A flexible approach can:
- attract and retain staff (reducing recruitment and training costs)
- reduce stress
- increase resilience and productivity
- reduce sick leave
- improve service delivery
- increase staff morale.
Employers supporting carers
Employees do not legally have to notify their employer that they are a carer. However, in a healthy working environment, carers are more likely to notify someone of their responsibilities and be more cooperative with their managers. Generally checking on an employee's wellbeing regularly during catch ups and/or appraisals can encourage open dialogue with employees and provide opportunities for employees to raise anything that may be impacting on their general wellbeing.
Where an employer is made aware of an employee with caring responsibilities, employers can take simple but effective action to enable carers to balance their caring and employment responsibilities.
- Carers policy - under the Agenda for Change terms and conditions of service, all NHS employers must have a carers' policy to address the needs of people with caring responsibilities and to meet the requirements of the ‘right to request’ flexible working legislation. This policy should emphasise the benefits of flexible working arrangements, balancing work and personal life and employment breaks.
- Working time regulations - in reaching local arrangements to implement this agreement, employers or employees are expected to ensure that no arrangements are reached that discriminate against members of staff with family or other carer responsibilities. For more information see the Agenda for Change terms and conditions of service.
- Flexible working practices - this can be flexi-time, home working, annualised hours, shift swapping, early retirement, self-rostering, job sharing or part-time working. Employers may also consider redeploying a staff member into a less stressful or more appropriate role as a way of keeping them well at work.
- Emergency leave - employers are required by law to give a reasonable amount of time off for emergencies. Although this does not have to be paid, many employers do pay.
- Other leave - employers could offer compassionate leave or a system of planned leave.
- Management support - having a supportive manager is key to enabling carers to feel that they can continue to work alongside their caring responsibilities. This may help employees come forward and let their manager know that they are a carer and may need some support and flexibilities. Access to a personal telephone in case of emergencies is a great way to show practical support.
- Supporting staff - human resources (HR), occupational health (OH) and managers need to be trained in how to support staff. Not knowing how to help when first approached by a carer could impact whether the employee remains at work or takes time off sick. OH and HR teams can offer help, advice and assessment on keeping well at work. This may be through access to leaflets, offering counselling or simply having a contact name that carers know they can turn to if needed. Managers should link with HR and OH so they are aware of what support is available and who to link with for support for staff with caring responsibilities.
- Carers' support network - employers could consider supporting and/or encouraging the establishment of an in-house support group for carers, where they could easily get together to have coffee and a chat about their caring responsibilities. Many workplaces now use digital and social media to communicate with staff and could use this channel to create an online support group.
- Communications - it is helpful to regularly publicise carers’ policies on the intranet and in staff handbooks, and in places where staff information is available.
- NHS health check - encourage all staff to have their free NHS health check to support their general wellbeing and enable the early detection of any wellbeing concerns.
- Flu vaccination- free seasonal flu vaccination is available to carers at local GP surgeries. Getting the vaccination protects both the carer and the person they are caring for. Please visit our flu fighter pages for more information on the flu vaccination.
- Encourage and promote an open environment - this can help staff feel comfortable to talk about their health freely and without prejudice.
As an employee you do not need to make your employer aware that your are a carer, however they may be able to support you in ways you hadn't considered, or even just have regular catch-ups to see how you are. Knowing that your employer is happy to listen and provide support if you need it, particularly if circumstances may change for you due to your caring role, can have a huge impact.
There are a number of options for employers to consider about how to support carers in the workplace. If you are not aware of these, you may want to ask your manager what options are available to you. It is important to create an environment in which every employee understands that carers may be present within the team and feel able to talk about their responsibilities.
You could encourage this open dialogue by:
- speaking about your experience
- providing information, leaflets and newsletters within the organisation
- suggest working with the Carers Trust representative within your area
- use positive language when talking about carers in the workplace.
If an employee is in the position of having to care for someone, they may wish to consider getting a carers assessment. This helps them to find out if they would benefit from support and whether they are eligible for any services or support from local organisations. For more information on the carers assessment, please visit Carers UK.
The Care Act in England was introduced in April 2015 and has changed the way social care support and funding are organised. More information on assessment and the Care Act can be obtained on the Carers UK website.
Find out how Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust created their 'colleagues as carers' forum, which provide opportunities for carers to rest, away from the wards and other environments, and a chance to talk about their caring responsibilities and the support that they need.