The issue of workplace wellbeing is not a new phenomenon, however, against the backdrop of Covid-19 existing workplace challenges have undeniably intensified.
Employee wellbeing is finally under a bright spotlight and mental health stigmas are steadily being dismantled. However, there is a certain segment of the workforce that is still frequently being overlooked when it comes to implementation of support strategies… working informal carers.
1 in 4 of the entire UK working population are acting as working informal carers… but who are they?
Who are the working informal carers?
Put simply, an informal carer is someone who provides regular care or on-going assistance to another person without being paid. These situations most commonly arise when a person takes on this responsibility out of loyalty, love or compassion for someone they care about.
Informal care tasks may include sourcing and organising health and wellbeing services; providing domestic services (cleaning, shopping, etc.) for someone unable to do it for themselves; or assisting someone to collect or take their medication(s). Whilst each of these tasks in isolation may seem manageable, when consistently coupled with full-time work responsibilities, specific challenges will inevitably arise.
Note: for the remainder of this article, working informal carers will be referred to as ‘working carers’.
Working carer challenges
Indeed, for many people, caring for an older, unwell or disabled loved one can be a life-enhancing experience. However, for the majority of working carers, this is unfortunately not the case.
There are a slew of challenges that come along with the combined pressures of juggling care responsibilities with full-time work obligations, and there are two key arenas that most of these challenges fall into:
Mental and emotional wellbeing challenges- Mental health charity Mind states that one in six workers are dealing with mental health problems, including depression, stress and anxiety. Such conditions are heavily correlated with feeling overburdened, fatigued and isolated which are common certainties for a large portion of working carers.
Productivity and performance challenges- Productivity and performance at work is often the first thing to waver when an employee is stressed or burned out. For many working professionals, this can lead to vicious cycles which perpetuate mental health challenges and performance at work. Additionally, employees who are over-burdened with personal and professional responsibilities are drastically less productive which inevitably takes a huge toll on overall company performance, resulting in a significant amount of revenue loss. In fact, in the UK we are seeing a £42 billion cost of informal care to businesses each year!
How can working carers be supported?
In recent years, there has been a momentous shift in the priorities of many large companies. It is finally being recognised that one-size-fits-all solutions to employee wellbeing are no longer sufficient and it is no longer enough to just to be a reputable company with great products or clients. However, there is still a glaring blind spot when it comes to implementation of HR strategies. Targeted support for the working carers (that make up 25% of the working population) is still practically non-existent.
In most cases, the act of providing care for a loved one is non-negotiable. But there are many ways in which employers can (and should) be supporting their working carers through the process, including; promoting a culture of openness and providing practical solutions to working care challenges…
Open company cultures and practical solutions
Almost 50% of informal carers feel forced to take sick days or feel compelled to lie about their situation so they have time to care for their loved one which impacts both mental health and workplace performance. The reason for this often lies in company culture. For many businesses, creating an open and honest company culture can require drastic structural changes that don’t happen overnight. They should be spearheaded by an open dialogue between employers and employees about how the former can help working carers.
Support may come from various sources, both practical and emotional, including flexible working hours and helping working carers to source alternative care service providers. However, the most effective solutions will be predicated on HR teams creating an environment where employees feel comfortable openly discussing their care commitments and providing practical solutions when they do.
Often, this will require implementation from the highest level to ensure all those who need support receive it. Request-orientated or ‘bottom-up’ approaches often leave working carers without the help they need – not least because so many people are hesitant to express their working carer commitments due to fear of judgement.
Providing practical support for working carers across the board should be a priority of any organisation that values the wellbeing of its staff. Firms will not only allow employees to nurture their mental health, but they will also be able to see the positive knock-on effects, such as increased individual efficiency, output and productivity!
Seeking outside help
By virtue of the fact that each employee’s needs and requirements will be different, support systems must be flexible and wide-reaching. But for many companies, it is just not logistically possible to build these systems in-house. This is where the help of external HR and benefits services can come into play. Traditional EAPs, whilst effective, are not targeted towards working carers, meaning that they often still slip through the cracks. HR teams and decision makers have a duty of care for their employees including their working carers so need to be mindful when developing strategies for harmonious growth of their workforces and their business.
To find out more about the issue of informal care and how working informal carers can be supported, take a look at the following sources:
About the author
6 years ago, whilst looking after his grandfather, Vivek Patni, CEO, WeMa, realised his passion for making change in the social care arena. Navigating the local authority, GP and NHS systems to manage his daily care and medical needs was an absolute nightmare. Although Vivek could see the problem first-hand, he would have never been able to imagine the scale of this nationwide, ever-growing issue. Alongside his co-founders, he has identified key areas in the care pathway that needed the most attention and would support service users the most and as a result, WeMa (Wellness Management) was born.