5 Steps to Supporting Carers In The Workplace

5 Steps to Supporting Carers In The Workplace

While there is increasing understanding and awareness about the need to support the working carers of young children, there is less support available to scaffold the work/life balance requirements for people with diverse or less predictable caring commitments.

Caring for friends or family members with a chronic physical or mental condition or who are ageing or undergoing treatment for a long term illness can have a significant impact on a person’s ability to maintain employment. While some caring roles are predictable and able to be planned around, others are not and may require extended leave from work at very short notice.

The emotional and physical demands of caring mean that many unpaid carers, particularly women, end up reducing their hours, or leaving the paid workforce entirely, to better accommodate their caring responsibilities. This can have a significant impact on a person’s long-term career prospects as well as their retirement savings, which may lead to poor mental health and poverty as the carer reaches the end of their working life.

Taking action to recognise and support the important role unpaid carers have in our community is undoubtedly worthwhile and may drive important advantages to the business such as improved staff loyalty and satisfaction and productivity improvements.

Under the National Employment standards working carers are provided with a safety net, which prescribes the minimum entitlement as follows:

  • Requests for flexible working arrangements – available to parents or carers of a child under school age or a child under 18 years with a disability.
  • Parental leave and related entitlements – up to 12 months unpaid leave, plus a right to request an additional 12 months unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child.
  • Personal/carer’s leave and compassionate leave – ten days paid personal/carer’s leave and two days unpaid carer’s leave per occasion. In addition, two days compassionate leave per occasion is also available if a member of the immediate family or the household has sustained a life-threatening illness or injury.

Other laws such as anti-discrimination legislation, which makes it illegal to discriminate against workers on the basis of their personal responsibilities and the Carer Recognition Act 2010, which works to increase understanding about the important role of carers, provide additional protection. But the reality is these legal mechanisms only provide the bare minimum and often do not offer the scope of support necessary to support unpaid carers in the workplace. Real game changing strategies happen at the organisational level, in workplaces prepared to prioritise the diverse needs of working carers and devise, introduce and improve policies and initiatives which genuinely reflect the needs of their employees.

Step 1: Identify the carers

The first step necessary to make an organisation more supportive of and positive towards unpaid carers is to identify the carers within your workforce. This requires an organisation to define what it means to be an unpaid carer and then to introduce a mechanism by which carers can stand up and be counted.

Many carers may choose to keep their caring responsibilities private, for fear they might jeopardise their chances of promotion or change workplace dynamics, so it’s important to ensure employees can be counted as a carer without having to identify themselves at the outset.

An effective way to identify carers and the kind of responsibilities they have is to conduct an employee survey, the survey should include questions about the type of unpaid care conducted, the time, travel and logistical considerations involved, how the caring affects paid work and what policies would make it easier for the carer to fulfil the responsibilities of both roles successfully.

Step 2: Introduce policies and initiatives

Once carers have been identified and their needs have been considered, it’s time to develop and introduce a range of policies and initiatives which best meet those needs. A comprehensive support package could include HR policies such as extended carers leave, opportunities for flexible work and support to work from home. It’s important to advise new recruits about these policies during induction and to offer constant reminders to staff members about the policies available to them when they need support.

Step 3: Ongoing support

In addition to the formal policies and procedures in place to support the diverse needs of unpaid carers many organisations also find it helpful to provide employees with access to a range of services, resources and sources of information supplied by external providers.

This may include a package of tailored information via the organisation’s intranet, access to counselling services, or a referral service to help employees source care or respite services or other sources of assistance.

Rolling all these services into a comprehensive package, which is accessible via a single access point, is the best way to ensure employees have access to the information when they need it.

Step 4: Raising awareness and training

While some caring responsibilities are long term and predictable many are not, which is why it’s important to constantly remind employees about the range of policies and initiatives available to support them should they assume an unpaid caring responsibility. These reminders can be via company newsletters or through access to training and workshops. Visual reminders in the form of posters in communal areas can also be helpful.

It may also be helpful to assign unpaid carers with an organisational mentor or adviser who they can talk to during periods of stress or anxiety. Carer forums of communities may also be useful in larger organisations for reducing feelings of isolation and for giving people a safe place to share their experiences.

Step 5: Review, revise and improve

It’s very important to review and update your carer policies on a regular basis. Conducting regular reviews, via surveys, workshops or employee feedback forms, ensures the policies best meet the needs of a specific workforce and means they can be built on and improved.


Further reading:

Supporting carers in the workplace: A toolkit Australian Human Rights Commission

Carers Australia