We need to talk about informal carers

Vivek Patni, CEO and co-founder of WeMa

Within the last decade, there has been a momentous shift in the priorities of large companies. Business leaders have adjusted their strategies to more completely prioritise the needs of individual staff members, thankfully reducing the number of firms with a tunnel-vision focus on profit.

From enabling working parents to adopt a healthier work/life balance with flexible working, to offering discounted memberships to nearby gyms, it is now commonplace to see employers going above and beyond to ensure their employees are happy and healthy. The benefits of this approach are evident. For example, in a bid to create a happier workforce, Microsoft’s Japan HQ trialled a 4-day week; consequently, productivity increased by 40%.

Whilst this is a positive step for employees and indeed business productivity, there is a growing concern that a segment of the workforce is being overlooked: informal carers –those who provide ongoing, regular assistance to a family member or friend without receiving payment.

Informal carers make up a surprisingly large proportion of the workforce; according to new research from WeMa Care, almost one fifth (18%) of the UK’s workforce offer some form of informal care to a loved one. However, the majority of these carers do not feel comfortable discussing their caring commitments in the workplace. Consequently, they bear their burden in silence, resulting in mental, and indeed physical strain.

An increasing problem for businesses

Undeniably, this has become an increasing problem for HR professionals. With an ageing population, it is almost inevitable that more and more of the workforce partake in some form of informal care. However, it appears that UK businesses are yet to take steps to accommodate the needs of informal carers, with 88% saying they don’t receive any support from their employers.

So, what does this issue mean for the future of businesses? Sadly, unless this issue is addressed, informal carers could pose a serious issue. The mental and physical exhaustion of being an informal carer will inevitably creep into working performance. In the aforementioned WeMa Care research, half (50%) of informal carers say that their external care responsibilities hamper their workplace performance. With the phenomenon of presenteeism – when an individual’s mental or physical health prevents them from being productive at work – the output of the entire business may suffer.

It’s not just performance in the workplace; 49% of informal carers have lied to their employer about needing a sick day in order to provide care for a loved one. Naturally, when a workforce is missing team members, the organisation will become inefficient and productivity will fall. 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.

Where do we go from here?

Whilst there is no simple solution to this issue, there are steps HR teams can take to offer some overdue support to informal carers.

First and foremost, HR teams must implement cultural change within the workplace, which encourages informal carers to open up about their caring responsibilities. Once carers feel comfortable to open up to colleagues, it will ensure HR teams are aware of their situation. Only then will HR teams be able to make take steps to meet their employees’ specific needs.

Naturally, these needs might vary. It could be, that they require flexible working hours; for example, coming to an agreement with your employee which enables them to come into work later and stay later, to allow them to fulfil morning caring duties, without having to get up at an unreasonable hour. Alternatively, HR teams could take steps to offer other forms of support, such as making it easier for carers to get in touch with professional carer service providers, who could ease the burden. CareTech tools are readily available to do this and will ease potential guilt felt by informal carers when they leave their loved ones to go to work.

Supporting informal carers will never be a case of one size fits all. HR professionals must commit to creating an environment where informal carers can talk about their commitments. Once HR teams are aware of needs of informal carers, adequate steps can be taken to offer the necessary support. Not only will this create a happier, healthier workforce, business performance and productivity will inevitably improve as a result.

About Vivek Patni, CEO and co-founder of Lavanya Plus

Vivek Patni is the CEO of Lavanya Plus, which has created the flagship CareTech solution WeMa (short for Wellness Management). WeMa consists of two complementary functions – WeMa Care, a B2B CareTech platform, enabling employers to provide better support for employees who require care services, either for themselves or on behalf of a loved one; and WeMa Life, an online marketplace that connects care service providers with consumers, allowing them to pay for and manage bookings quickly and easily. Additionally, WeMa also offers WeMa Plus, a booking platform for care providers, ensuring they are able to effectively manage their appointments. WeMa puts people before tech, matching individuals with the most suitable service providers that can deliver their personalised care needs within their budgets.

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