What you can do to support carers in your workplace

by External17 Jul 2015
Supporting carers to balance work and care is rapidly becoming one of the most critical social and workplace issues of this generation. Timothy Broady and Katherine Stone provide some tips for employers on how to manage all staff with carer responsibilities.

A large number of your employees are probably working much harder than you realise. Approximately 2.7 million Australians provide unpaid care and support for family members or friends with a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness, or who are frail, and over 1.3 million of these carers do so while maintaining paid employment.

The combination of several well publicised demographic trends over recent years has resulted in increasing numbers of the working population also taking on caring responsibilities. A rise in dual income families, shared family responsibilities, more women in the workforce, and an ageing population have meant that more employees are becoming carers and more carers find themselves needing to work.

There are two important points for employers to consider. Firstly, the proportion of the workforce with caring responsibilities at any given time, will continue to increase. Secondly, the proportion of your workforce who are carers is not a static group. Unlike most other diversity groups, carers will acquire and shed the role at various points in their lives. For some it is a relatively short period of one to two years, and for others it will last most of their lifetime. Care is an issue that will affect every one of your employees at some stage of their lives – they are caring now, they will care in the future or they will require care themselves. Supporting carers to balance work and care is rapidly becoming one of the most critical social and workplace issues of this generation.

Carers are at particularly high risk of withdrawing from the workforce when they feel forced to choose between work and care. This not only has implications for carers and their families, but also represents a major concern for employers who lose a valuable component of their workforce. Effectively supporting carers means that they are better able to remain employed in the long term, reducing the business costs associated with hiring and training new employees. Given that the greatest risk of becoming a carer occurs between the ages of 45 and 64, employers stand to lose a wealth of corporate knowledge, which may be difficult to replace.

In 2014, Carers NSW conducted a state-wide survey of nearly 1,700 carers, over 700 of whom were also in paid employment. A vast majority of working carers said their employers knew about their caring responsibilities, but one in four did not feel supported to balance work and care.

While working carers identified several different supportive practices that were available to them, the uptake of these was quite low. Existing research has suggested that carers may be reluctant to access available supports for fear that it may jeopardise their working relationships or career progression. Our research demonstrates that a workplace culture of care goes hand in hand with managerial support, and that both are fundamental in ensuring that carers are able to balance their working and caring responsibilities. Developing and maintaining a positive workplace culture for staff who are carers, or who will become carers, demonstrates a company’s commitment to the health and wellbeing of their people, to workforce diversity, and to positive outcomes in recruitment and retention.

Carers NSW offers services to employers and carers, including information sessions, staff support, and employer consultation and planning support. These services can be tailored to meet the needs of any organisation and provide employers with practical strategies to support employees with caring responsibilities. More information is available by contacting education@carersnsw.org.au.

About the authors

Dr Timothy Broady is Senior Research and Development Officer and Katherine Stone is Executive Manager of Policy, Education and Research at Carers NSW. Visit www.carersnsw.org.au or www.youngcarersnsw.org.au