The height of the pandemic was a tough time for working carers. Amenities they relied on like day centres, closed – often permanently. Many were left on the brink of burnout, yet amidst all the gloom and stress, one thing, rather unexpectedly, changed for the better.
We saw a positive shift in attitude towards carers in the workplace. With so many of us home-based and using video channels like Zoom and Teams to meet with colleagues, business leaders and line managers gained an insight, often for the first time, into the demanding lives many carers led. Calls might be interrupted, as parents with dementia wander into the room, or carers might need to leave the conversation to attend to the needs of a disabled child.
Moments like this helped shift the perspective of many employers, who now take a more sympathetic view of carers’ needs. And as a result, many employers have introduced initiatives to make the workplace a more conducive environment for carers.
There is still a long way to go but, for many, the workplace is now a much more supportive place
Carers feel more empowered
At the Bank Workers Charity (BWC), we’ve seen this mind shift regularly in our engagement with UK banks. We’ve heard repeatedly from bank employees that the stigma attached to being a carer at work has diminished. Carers now feel more comfortable proposing alterations to work patterns that support their caring responsibilities, confident that both managers and colleagues will be more receptive to the changes.
And it’s not just in banking. Carers UK found that 37% of carers say that their employer became much more understanding of caring during the pandemic. There is still a long way to go but, for many, the workplace is now a much more supportive place.
Innovation in carer’s leave
But what we’re also seeing at BWC are businesses being more proactive in supporting carers. TSB launched a carer’s policy, (only a third of employers have one), which amongst other benefits allows staff to take up to 70 hours of paid carers leave each year. And this comes with a very useful innovation. Employees can use this leave in time segments that work for them, whether in minutes, hours or days. This type of flexibility is rare and shows a true understanding of carers’ needs.
A toolkit for carers
The most remarkable example we’ve encountered is one that the Bank Workers Charity was delighted to contribute to at HSBC UK. This was initiated by the bank’s Ability ERG (Employee Resource Group), which had already developed a comprehensive carer’s charter for the Bank. The ERG’s new project aimed to resolve a problem that haunts so many carers; planning for the needs of a dependent relative when the carer is no longer around. In essence, what happens when the carer dies?
This is, of course, not just an extremely difficult issue to address but one that is highly emotive. So distressing and so complicated in fact, that many carers find it virtually impossible to think about. The charity SENSE found that 75% of carers felt unable to make plans for what would happen, and who would step in, in the event of their death.
The project has been a great success and the toolkit will be the launch point for tackling other important, caring issues
The Ability ERG is co-led by Jo Austin, herself a carer for a dependent son, his disabled girlfriend and a mum with dementia. The group set themselves the task of developing a toolkit that would guide carers through this complex landscape.
The toolkit would address the whole spectrum of issues their loved one would face – like where they would live and how their accommodation would be funded; who would ensure their interests were looked after and who would manage their money. Particularly thorny issues like setting up a trust fund and arranging for advocates to oversee the needs of their dependents were essential components in the toolkit.
SENSE, the only organisation, charitable or otherwise, we were able to find that had taken steps to address the issue, kindly allowed the team to incorporate elements of their work into the Bank’s toolkit and they were a source of ongoing advice throughout.
Over a period of months, the small group, which also included key stakeholders from different areas of the business, worked together on the project. In August 2022 the toolkit was launched at a live event contributed to by Ian Stuart, HSBC UK’s CEO, who had sponsored the project.
The event was attended by carers from across the bank and was extremely well received. The launch was followed shortly by a webinar that allowed carers to question a legal expert about some of the more complex issues they faced, like setting up a trust fund. The project has been a great success and the toolkit will be the launch point for tackling other important, caring issues.
Train managers so they understand the carer’s world and can respond with understanding to difficulties when they arise
How can businesses do more?
Clearly, businesses are in a prime position to provide assistance. So, what steps can employers take to do more?
- Introduce a carer’s policy that spells out the carer’s rights and what support they can expect from the business
- Create a carer’s hub that acts as a repository for easy-to-access information on resources for carers and sources of internal and external support
- Train managers so they understand the carer’s world and can respond with understanding to difficulties when they arise
- Establish a carer’s forum or network. Some of the most valuable support and advice carers can get is from other carers
- Ensure any counselling and wellbeing resources available through business are well-promoted – caring can be physically draining and mentally exhausting
- Implement flexible working policies that incorporate the highest levels of change as is practical, to allow for the unpredictabilities of caring. Paid carer’s leave is possibly the most valuable support of all for carers
Initiatives like those from TSB and HSBC UK are signalling to carers that they are an important demographic within the workplace. It’s estimated that 26% of employees now have caring responsibilities; that represents one in four of the UK’s working population. With such high numbers, businesses need to treat carer’s needs seriously.