Strategies For Supporting Employees With Caring Responsibilities

Strategies For Supporting Employees With Caring Responsibilities

A significant proportion of Australia’s working age population is already engaged in caring and our ageing population means that an increasing number of people will have caring responsibilities in the future. Economic necessity will require workplaces to become more carer friendly moving forwards and it makes sense to start implementing policies to support carers now.

ABS statistics show us that while men and women both assume responsibility for caring, women are shouldering the heaviest burden, as they comprise 92 per cent of the primary carers of children with a disability and 70 per cent of the primary carers for parents. Women also make up 52 per cent of the primary carers for partners.

Unpaid caring is valuable and important work and is varied in terms of the time commitment and responsibilities involved. Responsibilities may include caring for older people with chronic illness or frailty, caring for children with physical and/or mental illness, caring for people with drug or alcohol addictions and/or caring for a partner following an accident or sudden illness.

In addition, many people assume multiple caring responsibilities over the course of a lifetime and these responsibilities may vary as personal circumstances change.

For people balancing the competing pressures of paid work with unpaid caring the equation is complicated! Caring requires people to take both planned and unplanned time away from the workplace and this impacts on emotional and physical wellbeing as well as financial stability with salary and superannuation payments affected by extended absences.

While a select few workplaces offer employees access to initiatives designed to support them in their role as carers these workplaces are the exception rather than the rule and generally speaking the support available to working carers is woefully inadequate.

This lack of support means employees often have no choice but to leave their job or look at roles which are less time consuming or offer a reduction in responsibilities. This is bad for employees and bad for workplaces as it increases staff turnover rates, reduces productivity and has a negative impact on employee morale and loyalty.

The National Employment Standards outline the minimum requirements workplaces must offer working carers these include:

  • Requests for flexible working arrangements – available to parents or carers of a child under school age or a child under 18 years with 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.

(You can find more information on the NES from the Fair Work Ombudsman at

The Carer Recognition Act 2010 also aims to support working carers by raising awareness about the important job they do caring for people with a disability and those who are frail and aged or who suffer from medical and/or mental illness.

However, these provisions are basic, at best, and do not provide adequate support for the complicated and variable reality of life for working carers. Organisations wanting a more proactive and effective approach for supporting working carers need to look at workplace initiatives which enable employees to tailor their work and caring responsibilities to maximise productivity in both roles.

An important first step in moving towards building a more care aware workplace is to have an organisational policy which values, recognises and promotes the important role carers play in the community and economy and to reduce negative attitudes. A great way to do this is to identify and focus on the skills of employees with caring responsibilities and the experiences and knowledge they bring to the organisation.

According to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) one of the most effective ways to support working carers is to develop and implement a carer strategy which offers organisational guidance on the steps the workplace will take to support employees and offers a range of information and resources for employees over the long term.

According to the AHRC a well developed and effectively implemented carer strategy can deliver great returns for workplaces and individuals and can help to embed a workplace culture where employees with caring responsibilities are viewed as the norm rather than the exception.

The AHRC claims that a carer strategy can assist to:

  • Ensure there is a valuing of workers with caring responsibilities across the organisation;
  • Enable a flexible approach that recognises and responds to a diverse workforce, where each individual has different needs;
  • Encourage both women and men, at all levels, to undertake flexible work for the purposes of caring;
  • Enable long-term planning that supports staff returning from carer’s leave or career breaks and supports the career development of staff who are carers;
  • Embed an integrated approach that ensures positive outcomes for both the organisation and the carers; and
  • Change the organisation’s culture to embrace diversity and flexibility as an ongoing commitment to the entire workforce – not just ‘special treatment’ for the few.

The AHRC’s tool kit Supporting Carers in the Workplace offers a range of useful strategies on how organisations can work to support working carers and why they should do so. It also offers a helpful selection of workplace mechanisms which organisations can introduce to support carers. The guide also offers a simple six-step guide to developing and implementing an integrated carer strategy which in overview requires an organisation to:

  • Conduct an audit of current workplace flexibility and carer policies and programs for their effectiveness.
  • Survey staff to find out what carers need and would value
  • Analyse the results to understand needs and investigate further
  • Think through the solutions and develop a carer strategy
  • Communicate the carer strategy
  • Monitor and evaluate the progress of the carer strategy (and modify if necessary)

The CEO of Carers Australia, Ara Cresswell, says becoming more carer friendly makes great business sense and recommends job flexibility as one of the most effective strategies for employers to accommodate employee caring responsibilities.

“Providing flexible and supportive working conditions to enable employees to combine paid work with an unpaid caring role will ensure employers are able to hold onto experienced workers,” she said.

Diversity Council Australia also advocates flexible work as an effective tool for supporting employees with caring responsibilities. For more information visit the DCA website.

Care Corporate also offers a comprehensive suite of tools and resources employers can offer to support carers to achieve a healthy work life balance. For more information click here.


This Better Workplace Bulletin was  first Published in October 2014