Organisations risk alienating up to three million workers by failing to keep up with the care agenda, studies reveal

Just one third (34 per cent) of businesses have either a formal, written policy or an informal, verbal policy in place to support working carers – despite research suggesting that up to three million people across the UK combine paid work with caring for a disabled, older or ill family member or friend.

A quarter (26 per cent) of employers have a formal written policy in place to support employees who are juggling work and caring commitments at home, and eight per cent have an informal, verbal policy aimed at the needs of carers, according to a joint report from the CIPD and Westfield Health.

Meanwhile, almost two-fifths (38 per cent) have no policies at all, nor plans to implement them in the near future. 

The problem is particularly prevalent in the private sector, where just 11 per cent of organisations offer line manager training; just 18 per cent have a formal, written policy aimed at supporting working carers; and only one in five (20 per cent) know how many working carers they employ.

The joint research – which combined four in-depth online focus groups involving a cross-section of 23 working carers, and a survey of 554 senior HR professionals – reveals that working carers have very limited knowledge or understanding of the kind of support they could be entitled to in the workplace.

The figures also suggest that 70 per cent of employers do not keep track of how many of their staff have caring responsibilities, but Claire McCartney, resourcing and talent planning adviser at the CIPD, said both measurement and line manager training were key to supporting the working carer population.

“Employers need to view working carers as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, and see that listening to and understanding what they need from their employer is important,” she said. “Although official policies for working carers will help to legitimise their place in the labour market, they need not be prescriptive and should focus on empowering individuals.”

In a separate report released this week by Carers UK, more than a third (38 per cent) of working carers said they didn’t feel comfortable talking about their caring commitments at work, while 35 per cent said their employer didn’t understand their caring role.

The survey of 1,821 people who have experience of balancing employment and care showed that a continued lack of support and recognition from employers was having a significant impact on carers’ life chances. Nearly two-fifths (37 per cent) of carers said their work had suffered, with 25 per cent feeling unable to pursue, or having to turn down, a promotion.

A vast majority (60 per cent) of carers have reportedly given up work or have reduced their working hours to help them manage their caring responsibilities.

David Capper, executive director of Westfield Health, said: “Caring not only impacts heavily on employees’ working lives, particularly in terms of health and wellbeing, but can also seriously affect employers through rising levels of absence and falling levels of productivity.”

When asked what approach they’d like to see from their employers, 62 per cent of respondents to the CIPD/Westfield Health survey voted for minimal involvement in their personal lives. Instead, they wanted to feel empowered and given permission to respond as needed, whether that is through flexible work arrangements, or information and advice via an employee assistance programme.