Employers large and small need to take care. They are at risk of losing some of their most valued employees.
They will not lose these employees to competitors or to self-employment, but to the employees’ loved ones, for whom the employees have significant caring responsibilities.
The average UK workforce today will have at least one in every nine employees who are juggling their job with caring for a loved one. In the US this is 1:6, and in Canada 1:3. This may be a parent or elderly relative; a partner; a disabled son or daughter; or a close friend.
Caring is a natural part of life—it is fundamental to the human condition. Many of us, when we start caring for someone, don’t think of ourselves as a “carer”. We are simply doing what comes naturally as a loving son or daughter, partner or parent.
Sometimes, caring can be a short episodic burst, perhaps when a loved one needs help to recover after an operation or is suffering from severe depression. Other voluntary carers may be caring long term, and the amount of their caring progressively increases.
The impact of giving up
Many working carers simply give up on juggling work, caring and personal life and quit their jobs. This is bad for their employers (loss of institutional memory, productivity and of experienced and talented staff, plus the extra costs of recruiting and training replacement staff).
It is also bad for society, since employees with caring responsibilities who feel forced to quit their jobs will have lower pensions and fewer savings to fall back on in later life and will, therefore, be more dependent on the state.
Yet it need not be like this. Smart (as well as responsible) employers understand the business as well as the moral case for helping employees with caring responsibilities to stay in work. They will recognise that caring for working carers is the new frontier in terms of diversity and inclusion, and in what constitutes both a responsible and great place to work.
This should especially resonate with organisations that aspire both to be agile workplace—ones that encourage fuller, longer working lives—and also ones where employees can feel 100% human at work.
Support for working carers
Such organisations identify their employee carers, offering flexible and home-working and carer leave. They will support internal networks of employee carers, provide access to advice and information, and learn and improve continually, through exchanges with other employers as well as regular feedback from employees.
They will be including how to help working carers stay in work, in line-manager training—especially in the context of avoiding stress in the workplace and mental ill-health. They will encourage leaders to speak out about their own caring journey and be workplace carer champions.
The very best employers help ex-carers to return to work, and explore how technology can make life easier for working carers—especially those caring at a distance—and use their influence to help shape public policies and programmes to value, respect and support carers.
Savvy board members won’t just assume that HR or Diversity & Inclusion teams have this in hand already. They will want to be proactive in raising questions about their organisations’ policy and practice relating to carers, in board discussions concerning corporate responsibility, future-proofing workplace skills and succession planning.
As populations age around the world and people seek longer working lives, this is an urgent and growing challenge for employers.
David Grayson CBE is professor of corporate responsibility at Cranfield University School of Management, and chairman of the charity Carers UK. His new book: “Take Care: How to be a great employer for working carers”, is published by Emerald Publishing.