Vivek Patni, CEO and Founder of WeMa
In recent decades, HR policy has been in a state of change, constantly evolving to meet the needs of the modern workforce. From flexible working, package benefits to greater mental health support, companies have gone to great lengths to ensure their employees remain happy and healthy; and in return, businesses experience higher levels of productivity and efficiency.
Companies have now realised that, in order to attract and retain talented employees, they have to offer not just benefits, but also adequate support to nurture their employees. Indeed, it is not enough to be a reputable company with great products or clients – employees, want the right culture and life balance.
However, recent research commissioned by WeMa suggests that there might be a blind spot in employer’s understanding of the needs of employees: the struggle of working carers. The independent survey of 2,000 full-time workers in the UK found that almost one fifth (18%) of them also provide some form of informal care to a loved one, most of whom have not told their employers of their situation. This is stark statistic that suggests that employees don’t feel comfortable discussing their care responsibilities with their employer.
What’s more, the mental and physical strain of caring for a loved one appears to be taking its toll on many employees. Indeed, half (50%) say their workplace performance is hampered by the fact they also act as an informal carer, while 49% have taken sick days and lied about the reason so they have time to care for a loved one. Naturally, this means people are away from their desks, and so the trend is not only problematic for working carers, it is also having an effect on attendance and working efficiency. At times, the stress and exhaustion can become too much, and carers may feel forced to choose between employment and becoming an unpaid full time carer.
This worrying trend presents the question: could businesses, and more specifically, HR teams do more to support informal carers in the workplace? There certainly seems to be scope for improvement, given that 88% of informal carers claim their organisation offers no support whatsoever, meaning those who are already burdened (and likely, stressed) by caring cannot rely on their employer at all.
The first, and perhaps most important step in addressing this issue is creating an environment where employees feel comfortable to talk openly about their carer commitments. The benefit of nurturing such a culture is twofold. Primarily, it will de-stigmatise working carers, opening up a dialogue between colleagues and helping to reduce working carers’ feelings of isolation. Secondly, it means employers can be aware of which members of staff are struggling with caring and may need additional support.
From a business perspective, open and honest discussions about the ongoing commitments of working carers will pave the way for positive structural change. Whether it’s introducing flexible working hours, or even helping the employee to find alternative care service providers, thereby enabling them to come to work without the guilt of leaving their loved one home alone, encouraging open discussions will allow HR teams to evolve policies to support the entire work force. With the entire workforce feeling adequately supported, and indeed valued, workplace performance will likely increase.
For most employers, the physical and mental health of their employees is always of paramount importance. Thankfully, the mental health revolution of the past few years has penetrated deep into business world. However, we now know more can be done to ensure the entire workforce receives adequate support. Admittedly, for many organisations, especially large ones, providing support will be a huge undertaking and will require implementation of new systems and structures to support staff from the very highest level. Yet, it will mean more help for thousands of staff members across the globe.
Whether others will pursue a solution to this issue remains to be seen. But firms that do so with vigour will see significant dividends paid above and beyond a happier and healthier workforce – greater efficiency and productivity are also on offer.