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What employers can do to support carers

There are a range of measures employers can take to provide a supportive working environment for carers in their workforce. These don’t necessarily need to represent a major change in how an organisation operates, and can sometimes be a small and simple adjustment, but one which makes a significant difference to how supported carers feel at work.

Identification of carers and clarity around what it means to be a carer

The identification of carers, and understanding of their circumstances is a key starting point for employers and should be central to how support is developed within an organisation, ideally based on regular consultation. There are a number of ways that employers can learn which of their employees are also carers.  Depending on the size and structure of their organisation this might be through the establishment of a ‘carers register’, or via staff induction, appraisals, employee surveys etc.  Having a clear definition of what it means to be a carer is important in whatever approach is taken – many people do not identify themselves as carers and may not think to raise the issue with their line manager in the first place.

A workplace should have a supporting and comfortable environment where there is no stigma attached to carers identifying themselves.  However, the choice of carers to self-identify themselves should still be respected, understanding that some people may not want to disclose their situation.

Workplace policies

It is important that carers are recognised as a distinct group within an organisation’s policies and procedures. This might be via a dedicated ‘carers policy’ or with specific mention made of carers within existing HR policies.

A policy would state the range of support provided to carers within an organisation and the procedures for accessing this provision. These could include the provisions for carers leave or other special leave arrangements, such as paid or unpaid emergency leave; compassionate leave; matched leave and borrowed leave.  Additionally, employers can offer flexible working options and/or other forms of workplace support.

Flexible working

Flexible working can take a number of forms, some of which include flexi-time; part-time working; job-sharing; working from home/ teleworking; staggered hours; annual hours; compressed hours; term-time working; shift-swapping or self-rostering.

Depending on the organisation’s policy, a mix of solutions can be used to respond to a particular situation – flexible working in conjunction with some paid/unpaid time off/special leave etc…

It is important that options are fully discussed and considered from both the employer and employee’s perspectives. Flexibility, fairness, communication and co-operation are important on all sides, between carers, their colleagues, and their managers.

Other practical support

Sometimes, supporting carers in the workplace is not just about changing the hours that they work. There are practical, and often very small changes that can make a difference too.  These can include: allowing carers to keep their mobile phones on or providing private access to a telephone; signposting to external support and services; establishing a workplace support group for carers, and involving carers in other health and well-being programmes at work. 

More than anything, establishing and embedding a culture of support within an organisation will be key in ensuring that carers feel comfortable in the workplace and able to  raise with their line managers any issues they might be experiencing with managing their work and caring responsibilities.

Communication, awareness raising and training

Organisations can have very good policies and practical support on paper, but if these are not known throughout the workplace, or consistently applied by line managers, then they can sometimes be of little benefit to carers.

Good communication of carer policies and procedures is essential to getting this right.  This can be achieved on a number of levels, from the provision of basic information via staff induction processes, payslip messages, organisation intranet, staff message boards etc, to wider workplace awareness raising sessions involving colleagues and managers.

Line manager training is especially important in ensuring that an organisation is treating carers fairly across all departments or sections, and in providing a consistent approach when a manager leaves and is replaced by someone new.