Supporting working carers is vital – and will boost productivity

Vivek Patni, CEO and Founder of WeMa

The state of the job market has been changing over recent years. Historically, employers needed two key qualities to attract high quality talent: competitive salaries and an impressive business proposition. This meant that new hires could be accrued simply by paying more than a competitor or by having bigger clients and a better product.

However, this is no longer the case. The last three decades have seen employees and prospective employees demand more from their company culture. This has proliferated more approachable C-levellers, flatter hierarchies, and more aesthetically appealing offices.

Concurrently, there has been a collective focus on greater work-life balance, leading to many firms offering more holiday and flexible working hours. The apex of both of these trends is embodied in companies like Google and in co-working spaces like WeWork and IWG, as well in recent calls for a four day working week.

Thankfully, the surge in mental health awareness has also put it in employers’ sights as an area for improvement. Mental health days, yoga and even free counselling have begun working their way into the workplace, all to the benefit of staff, and indeed the business as a whole. Despite these changes, we still have a significant way to go before all staff needs are met, according to new research commissioned by WeMa Care.

In a survey of more than 2,000 workers in the UK, WeMa Care discovered that one fifth (18%) of people provide some form of informal care to a loved one. This is a surprisingly large proportion of the workforce – but is not an issue in itself. Indeed, for many people, caring for older, unwell or disabled friends and family can be a life-enhancing experience rather than a burden. However, the research shows that for the majority (50%) of working carers, their performance at work is hampered, resulting in a significant hit to staff output, mental health and overall company productivity.

This is of particular concern to large companies, where the struggle of being a working carer may be more likely to get lost in bureaucracy, leaving them feeling unsupported and isolated. As a result of the inadequate provisions of businesses, almost of half of working carers feel compelled to take sick days or lie so they have time to care for their loved one; this worrying trend may also be leading to absenteeism and duplicity, further impacting overall workplace wellbeing.

Decreasing workplace performance of an individual will inevitably take its toll on company performance; after all, for large firms, the reduced productivity of 10% of the workforce represents thousands of working hours and a significant amount of revenue.

Such a trend presents an obvious question: what are organisations, and especially their HR teams, doing to help their staff balance working full time and being a carer? Radical structural change may be needed, as the statistics suggests they could be doing more, with 88% of people saying their organisation offers no support whatsoever.

This will have to be spearheaded by an open dialogue between employers and employees about how the former can help working carers. Support may come from various sources, including offering flexible hours to helping them find alternative care service providers, but the most effective solutions will be predicated on HR teams creating an environment where employees feel comfortable openly discussing their care commitments. For larger firms it will require implementation from the highest level to ensure all those who need support receive it. A piecemeal, bottom-up or request-orientated approach could leave working carers without the help they need – not least because so many are hesitant to express their working carer commitments.

Providing greater support for working carers across the board should be the priority of any organisation that values the wellbeing of its staff. Firms will not only create a happier and healthier employees, but they will also enjoy the positive knock-on effects, such as increased individual efficiency, output and productivity.

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