Looking after my mum in her final years, ensuring that she could stay happily and safely in her own home, and that she always had things to look forward to, was the most important thing I have done in my life – and I imagine will remain so.
Like many others across the UK, I cared for my parents as I carried out my regular job. One in every nine people in the UK workforce will at any one time be juggling a job and caring for a loved one. Most commonly a parent or other elderly relative, but it might also be a partner, a disabled child or a sibling. The figure is one in eight in Australia and one in six in the US.
For some people, caring starts instantaneously, after a bad accident or when our loved one has a stroke. In other cases, caring builds up almost imperceptibly – perhaps requiring a bit of help initially with the shopping or gardening or dressing. As populations around the world age, many more of us will be caring at some points in our lives.
Being 100% Human at Work should mean that workers are able – if they wish – to explain to their managers and co-workers when they are a working carer. Their employer should then help them combine working and caring. If that option eventually ceases to be possible, employees need to be able take a leave of absence to care, and eventually return after the caring journey is over.
At a most basic level, good employers will provide access to relevant advice and information about what it is to be a carer. I can’t count how many times during my voluntary work as chairman of Carers UK that I heard people say: “If only I knew at the beginning of my caring journey, all the things I know now.”
When operating effectively, employers have the ability to act as very efficient communication channel – often helping workers realise that they are in fact, carers. Personally, I was several years into my own caring journey, before I even realised I was a carer!
Employers can make quite simple and reasonable adjustments for their ‘carer’ employees – some of these could be as easy as allowing carers to keep their mobile phone with them on the shop floor, or providing a private room to make and receive carer-related calls during working hours.
A great initiative shown by many employers is encouraging employee-led carer networks. These networks assist in experience and expertise sharing, as well as helping to raise the profile of working carers – this is especially the case when leaders within an organisation are carers themselves, and are willing to champion the organisation’s policies.
As with any aspect of the drive to be fully ‘human at work’, policies are fine but what ultimately matters is the practice, and it’s here that line-managers become crucial. An understanding line-manager can make all the difference. When it comes to flexible working for carers, line-managers who are alert and aware to what may be going on in the lives of their direct reports, and that this may very well include looking after a loved one, is vital.
Ensuring that there is consistency if a working carer switches line-manager, is one of the reasons why more organisations are introducing a Carer Passport – a document which encapsulates accommodations that have been agreed to help the carer successfully continue to work and care.
We can all play a valuable role in encouraging employers to become great employers for working carers. We can all help to develop and sustain networks of employers who want to learn from each other about what works in helping working carers.
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