Caregiver Burnout: how can employers best support carer wellbeing and productivity?

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To mark National Carers Week, we’re shining a spotlight on the frustrating, complex, bureaucracy-heavy process many carers have to go through to arrange longterm care for an adult in their life, and how employers can better support them. Having gone through this difficult process herself, Stephanie Leung has now set up a company so others can avoid the same pain she went through.

KareHero supports employers to support their caregiving employees, so these employees don’t feel the only option is to give up work and care for the relative themselves (something she herself had been forced to do several times).

Leung is hoping that the new Carers Leave Act – which came into effect on April 6 2024 – will give the issue of having caring responsibilities while working more visibility. “Up until now I don’t think carers have felt seen or heard. And, while getting five days off a year unpaid care is not a lot, it’s a start to giving carers rights,” she says. 

However, her concern with the new legislation is that some employers will put a basic care policy in place without understanding it, or really appreciating the impact of caring responsibilities on the workforce.

We caught up with her to dig deep into the complexity of this issue and find out what employers could be doing to best support carers.

What do you think is the biggest issue that employers should understand about their employees who are carers?

The link between employees who are carers (for adults, not children) to the nation’s productivity and growth.

We’ve reached the tipping point: there are now more adult dependents than child dependents. We also have an ageing workforce, a shrinking birth rate and 44% of the nation are single children. 

We are entering an age where at least one in five employees will be managing someone with adult care needs. At the same time, the pension age will be going up to 67 between 2026-2028, which means companies will have employees from the age of 40 to 67, many of whom will come into caring duties.

That caring employee doesn’t want to quit their job, but they’re overwhelmed. They have no support and so they go part-time, or they give up work altogether. And with that, we lose a huge resource and productivity (it probably gives us some idea why £8.2 billion pounds a year is lost in productivity).

The numbers tell a story: In the UK, 16.06 million women aged 16 and over were in employment in October to December 2023. There were 10.05 million women working full time, while 6.01 million were working part time. 38% of women in employment worked part-time, compared with 14% of men.

Carers, especially female carers, are getting pushed out of the workforce because of their caregiving duties – with many of them seeing no other option than to reduce their hours or quit. There needs to be a better way businesses can include them to ensure this doesn’t happen. We have to ask, why did they end up there, making that decision to quit or pull back?

…. And why did they end up there?

Well, I can answer that by telling you how I ended up there. I’m in the ‘sandwich’ generation; I’ve got ageing parents and a teenage child. I’ve had to quit my job repeatedly in the past because of my caring responsibilities. But, this time round, I refused to quit. Instead, I created a solution for the millions of employees out there who found themselves in my position and thought they didn’t have a choice but to quit.

So what does KareHero actually do then?

Imagine an employee’s dad has just come out of hospital. He can’t walk anymore and he’s had a heart attack, and he needs post-op care or some kind of long-term oversight. The employee is desperately trying to put this infrastructure in place for him. They’ll probably have to take time off while they sort this out and trawl through the bureaucracy, work out the funding and application for care benefits, etc.

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But if an employer has signed up to KareHero then we do all this for the employee. If your loved one goes into hospital, we can put a care package together within 48 hours, as opposed to having to wait for weeks for the right assessments (we can do them this immediately by phone as opposed to the usual 6 weeks).

We help if employees need to apply for care benefits – for example, if our Care Experts identify they are entitled to the higher rate of Attendance Allowance, we could help them claim £5644.60 per year – or support them with appeals if their application has been rejected.

Caregiver burnout is a real thing, and if we can stop just one person from quitting their job due to caregiver stress, this will help not only the employee stay in work, but also helps with ROI for an organisation, as well as reducing loss of productivity.

We estimate that we save that employee at least 200 hours when trying to understand what is going on and get the right care infrastructure put in place. 

If employers really want to look after the wellbeing of their carers, then this is the kind of support they need to put in place.

And this is offered via the employer as an employee benefit?

Yes, as a turn key solution. We support employees with all the advice and coaching around setting up the right infrastructure and obtaining funding that they are eligible for their loved ones. 

It’s all contained inside our KareHero app, backed by a team of professional Care Experts. As experienced care practitioners, they’ve been through the whole funding process and helped families through funding at all stages of care needs. They understand the legal and financial structure of the care industry, including things like power of attorney, which is what employees need help with. 

And can you tell us anything about the ‘typical’ employee who is a carer and uses your service? Are they mostly female?

60% are women. However, women are four times more likely to go part-time or quit their job to become the default carer. And a lot of these women are at the age of menopause, as well as having kids to look after. Carers however, are both men and women, who are approaching the prime of their careers and are experienced managers. It’s a major loss to the economy to lose such talent.

How up-to-speed do you feel companies are about the complexity necessary in care policies?

Not very. In my experience, most companies haven’t thought much about these issues and, typically, when they think of ‘carers’ they think of caring in relation to childcare or they think it only applies to people who are in their 60s, looking after someone in their 90s.

We’ve met carers in their 20s looking after their grandparents, or men in their 30s looking after their father with dementia in their 50s. Adult care is much more long-term and complex, because you’re looking at the health and welfare of a human being day in, day out, and their health condition can change or deteriorate over time. Some people think it’s like emergency child care where you can ‘plug’ a nanny in at the last minute, but it is much more overarching and complex than that. There’s a huge amount of paperwork and monitoring too.

A lot of companies may update their policy on the back of the new law, but they don’t actually understand what it means. For instance, they need to actively understand the needs of carers and the solutions they can put in place to support them to stay in work. It’s not enough to say ‘we’ve just updated our policy’. That’s why KareHero goes beyond just supporting the employee, and helps the company with manager training, setting up carer communities and crisis support.

What are the biggest things that organisations could do better on this issue?

I think organisations should fully embrace the fact that the bulk of our workforce is now ageing, with a greater likelihood of employees having a caregiving role alongside their professional role. Employers should help remove the stigma of talking about caring at work, and help employees understand the terminology around it, and that there are solutions out there to support them through this tough journey.

In the same way that menopause wasn’t talked about five years ago, the topic of adult carers hasn’t either, but it’s now coming to the forefront. I recently attended a roundtable, and most people didn’t even know the definition of a carer in the workplace.

It is estimated that one in three people will care for a person with dementia in their lifetime. Half of them are employed and it’s thought that some 66,000 people have already cut their working hours to care for a family member, whilst 50,000 people have left work altogether. Hopefully the Carers Leave Act will act as a foundation stone to raise awareness among organisations that carers are a core part of the workforce, and should be supported to stay in the workforce. 

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