Is your Workplace Care Aware?

For employees the effects of trying to maintain a job while caring for young children, sick family members and/or older parents can lead to stress, poor health and burnout. For employers the effects of ignoring employee care responsibilities include reduced productivity and profitability as a result of reduced employee health and well being, higher staff turnover rates, low levels of morale and reduced employee engagement.

Research available on the Care Aware website suggests that at least one in eight Australian employees has a role caring for someone. Carers can be friends, relatives, siblings, partners and neighbours who provide full or part time unpaid personal care, support and assistance to people of all ages with disabilities, medical conditions, mental illness, frailty due to age and people who have alcohol and drug issues.

Recent figures from the UK’s Office of National Statistics show that more often than not middle-aged women bear the main burden of responsibility for care with one in four women aged 50-64 providing unpaid care compared to one in six men of this age.

Chief Executive of Carers UK Helena Herklots said becoming a carer in middle age can irreversibly change a person’s working and personal life.

“Women who have struggled to juggle child care and work are now also finding themselves caring for ageing parents – and sometimes also a seriously ill partner.”

“Without the right support, women are forced to leave work, or reduce their hours at an age where it is a real challenge to re-enter the work force when caring comes to an end. This brings serious consequences for their incomes and pensions, as well as a wider cost to the UK economy,” she said.

With the ageing population and the rapidly expanding number of Australian workers currently trying to balance one or more caring responsibilities with a job, the goal of improving Australian workplaces to make them more ‘Care Aware’ has become a stated aim of government and is an issue being reviewed and addressed in many Australian organisations.

DCA chief executive officer, Nareen Young, says the pressure on working carers needs to be acknowledged and addressed as a matter of urgency.

“An employer’s positive and supportive attitude toward carers and workplace flexibility can really help ease the burden,” said Ms Young.

According to Care Aware, the national carer awareness initiative, organisations which have made a commitment to recognising and supporting carers are carer friendly workplaces. An important part of this is securing senior management buy-in.

According to Care Aware a carer friendly workplace:

  • Makes a management commitment to carers
  • Knows who carers are
  • Understands what it means to be a carer and appreciates what carers do
  • Knows the carers in their organisation or business
  • Understands the needs of carers and their workplace options
  • Offers flexible workplace options
  • Offers support to carers

The advantages to making a workplace more care aware are numerous and can be enjoyed in organisations of every size and in every industry. According to the Care Aware initiative organisations which are supportive of carers and willing to consider different models of employment to accommodate the varied needs of carers will benefit from:

  • Improvements in workplace productivity
  • Better customer satisfaction
  • Reduced training expenses
  • Improved efficiency
  • Greater staff retention
  • Better workforce diversity
  • Good work attendance
  • Enhanced staff engagement and commitment
  • Greater staff satisfaction
  • More staff creativity and energy

The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily cost a lot to make an organisation more care aware, it simply requires an organisation-wide commitment and a can do attitude. DCA research has shown that giving employees access to flexible work options is one of the most effective and cost efficient ways to become carer friendly.

“There needs to be a change of culture to challenge the stigma of working flexibly. It has to be seen as a normal way of working. Employers need to offer quality flexible work at every level and at the point of recruitment – not just when people return from parental leave,” said DCA CEO Ms Young.

Offering employees opportunities to work flexibly means they are more likely to be able to manage the competing pressures of their professional life and their caring responsibilities. There are many models of flexible work available and even though some roles may not seem immediately suitable for flexible work options with an open mind and an organisational commitment to retaining the people you have already invested in, it is likely you will be able to accommodate their caring responsibilities.

Some flexible work options worth investigating include flexi time and time in lieu, job sharing, part time employment, leave without pay, staggered start and finish times, rostered days off or a nine day fortnight, compressed work weeks, transition to retirement, career breaks and extended periods of leave without pay and career flex which is paid or unpaid sabbaticals and return to work in a comparable role. Emergency leave is also important for carers who may be required to take time off at short notice to attend medical emergencies.

It’s also important to note that the Fair Work Act was amended this year to give employees with caring responsibilities the right to request flexible work arrangements and making it a requirement for employers to give those requests reasonable consideration.

Supporting carers

Flexible work opportunities which allow employees to balance out their working day with their caring responsibilities would be the ideal scenario for many carer employees however it’s important to remember that there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to making this work. The responsibilities of carers vary according to the needs of the person they are caring for, any alternative sources of support available, access to carer support and respite services and current working arrangements.

The most effective way to develop a solution which meets the operational requirements of your organisation as well as the caring responsibilities of the employee is to maintain open lines of communication. For many carers it will not be easy to discuss their caring roles, responsibilities and relationships and much of the information will be deeply personal. The best way to build a culture of trust and openness is to show understanding and empathy and to encourage employee carers to be explicit about what they need to help them manage their caring responsibilities.

Register here to become a Care Aware workplace

References and Further Reading

Care Aware Workplace Guide   Carers Australia   Employers for Carers


 This Better Workplace Bulletin was First Published in June 2013