Something is beginning to stir in British workplaces. Employers are realising that our ageing population means that they have more and more staff with caring responsibilities for an elderly or disabled person. The membership of Employers for Carers is growing rapidly as the public and private sector recognise the challenges facing today’s workforce, let alone the workforce of the future.
The question is how should employers respond. Many have taken up the childcare challenge in the last twenty years to support working parents. Are the same responses and solutions applicable to staff caring for an older person.
The starting point must be finding out more about your staff, their needs and responsibilities. What would help them most and what realistically can employers do?
Quite a lot is the answer. Managers recognising and understanding a carer’s situation is important. But there is more. Employers can offer access to good information and advice so staff aren’t fretting at work, diverted from the job at hand. Knowing what help is available, including aids and adaptations for the home, and how to get it is crucial.
Flexibility is also important. Most employers now offer flexible working. For carers an emergency may require dropping everything quickly to get home or to get to where their parents live 200 miles away. So emergency leave is also important as well as being able to work from home.
Caring can be very stressful and emotionally draining so having someone to talk to is helpful, perhaps through an employee assistance programme or by having a carers’ network in the workplace so staff can share experiences and discuss how they cope.
A new report from Employers for Carers published for Carers Week explores support for ‘caring at a distance’ where the cared for person lives some way from the carer, even abroad. Many employers are starting to put in the place some of these ideas.
Apart from the solutions offered above, the big issues are paying for care and being able to get good care and support services wherever you live in the country. The government has set up the Dilnot commission to look at how care is funded and it is due to report in early July. Let’s hope it offers an ambitious package to support our ageing population.
In the meantime employers may want to consider why tax exempt vouchers are only available to pay for childcare. Surely now is the time for care vouchers to help employees pay for care for all ages?
Stephen Burke is Director of United for All Ages, a social enterprise bringing older and younger people together to create stronger communities and a stronger Britain. www.unitedforallages.com.
These opinions are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Computershare Voucher Services.