Removing barriers for un-paid carers in the workforce

Helen Northmore sets out priorities for overcoming barriers to work for un-paid carers.

Regardless of the nature of a business, maintaining a healthy and happy workforce has a direct impact on productivity, innovation and ultimately profits. Despite knowing the benefits of supporting staff to be happy and engaged at work, this awareness often isn’t translated into effective policies and practices. As a result, recruiting and retaining skilled and experienced staff is a constant challenge. The Welsh Government’s Employer Skill Survey 2015 showed that 13% of businesses in Wales have skills gaps in their workforce and that 6% have vacancies unfilled due to a lack of skilled applicants. Even where recruitment was successful, 9% of business reported that retention remained a problem.

It’s clear that more can, should and must be done to support businesses to think creatively; to better understand the challenges facing modern employees and how roles can be adapted to better meet their needs. The barrier to developing the most effective working practices is often rooted in a lack of understanding, and this can be overcome through investing time in better communication. Open, earnest and personal dialogues and flexible thinking can be a challenge, particularly in more traditional business environments. However, they must be prioritised as employees consistently demonstrate that they’re both better able and more eager to contribute in the workplace when innovative employment structures are offered and challenges within their personal lives understood.

Many employers recognise the benefits of structuring their roles in ways that enable employees to maintain a good work-life balance and, while some flexible working rights are available due to statutory regulations, many other working patterns are agreed on an ad hoc basis. Increasingly, we see jobs advertised that are home based, flexible hours or remote working. In addition to this, more and more organisation offer systems where employees are expected to take Time Off in Lieu, giving back to employees time worked above and beyond their hours during busy periods.

Although this increased flexibility in employment is undoubtedly a change for the better, there’s still  more to be done in terms of identifying groups of employees who might benefit from specific working patterns or organisational support.

3 in 5 of us will spend time caring, unpaid, for a family member or friend during our lifetimes and in Wales alone there are 370,000 carers – more people than the entire population of Cardiff. It is clearly essential that carers are recognised, reached out to and kept in the workforce – their skills and expertise retained with support to balance their professional life and their personal commitments.

Carers save the Welsh economy £8.2bn each year and, to be blunt, our economy and social care system could not function or survive without their contributions – contributions often made despite significant personal cost. Being a carer can be exhausting and stressful; juggling caring for an older relative with raising a family and holding down a job would tire anyone out. It is likely that many, if not most, organisations in Wales employ people who have caring responsibilities and, whether they are aware of this or not, businesses can do more to identify and work with the carers in their workforce.

By working together real and meaningful changes can be effected. Changes which though they are often small, can have a huge impact on carers’ quality of life, their professional satisfaction and productivity. Adaptions made to support carers in work aren’t necessarily significant, nor a dramatic departure from other working practices; they could include simple things like allowing time off to attend medical appointments or agreeing flexible working hours to accommodate caring commitments. Despite the potential for caring responsibilities to have a negative impact on an employee’s wellbeing and, in turn, their productivity, a flexible approach will help to maximise the benefits and skills brought by the employee and create recognition of some of the wider, transferrable skills that carers develop.

In a job market where recruitment and retention are problematic, keeping carers working is essential to both meeting demand and also to enabling carers to achieve ambitions outside of their caring responsibilities. For employers, recognising that there are carers within their organisation and supporting them to manage their caring responsibilities will reduce the employee’s stress, improve performance, improve job satisfaction, improve commitment to the organisation and reduce staff turnover: Providing flexible support will benefit all parties and can be achieved easily if approached in a practical, solution-focused way.

In addition to my work for Remploy I sit on the Business Board of Carers Trust Wales, an organisation dedicated to working with and for unpaid carers. Within their own workforce they offer adaptations to working hours, compassionate leave, empathy and understanding to retain employees with caring responsibilities. This week the Business Board will be launching the 1000 Club, an initiative that will focus on fundraising, to support some of the essential support Carers Trust Wales provide to carers throughout Wales, and help businesses to recognise the importance of identifying and supporting carers within their workforce.

As a business community it is essential that we work together to share experiences and to raise the bar in terms of how we support, value and motivate our staff. The 1000 Club’s work will place an onus on its members to make those small adaptations that could ultimately improve productivity, staff wellbeing and retention. Carers make a phenomenal contribution to our society and if businesses in Wales are to thrive we need to harness their talent, not create artificial barriers to keeping them an active and vital part of the workforce. Carers deserve better, and businesses need carers.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Helen Northmore is Business Development Director, Remploy and member at Carers Trust Wales’ Business Board

Also within Politics and Policy