With an estimated 3.7 million carers in England and Wales, a growing number of people are having to juggle their jobs with caring responsibilities. A carer is someone who helps or looks after a family member or friend who needs care and support as a result of old age, physical illness, disability, mental health problems or addiction.

Last week, we launched compelling research with the University of Sheffield, examining how working carers combine their caring responsibilities with paid employment, and the difference employers can make by supporting them. 

We also launched practical guidance to help organisations put in place proper, sustained support for working carers going forward. 

While these findings are based on UK data, the broader trends and implications should be of interest wherever you are based. 

Caring and the impact of COVID-19

The demands faced by carers have become even more acute with the ongoing impact of the coronavirus on society. Now, more than ever, organisations need to be aware of carers' concerns, and as supportive and flexible as they can be during a period of stress and uncertainty. 

Yet the situation also presents an opportunity for employers, many of whom might have had their first discussions with employees about the vulnerable members of their household, or those who might be dependent on them for care. Employers can, for the first time, gain an understanding of just how many of their employees have caring responsibilities and provide the support they need.

The challenges of balancing work and care

Our research shows the real challenges of balancing work and care:

  • 44% of working carers in England and Wales (around 1.6 million) are struggling to cope with the pressures of balancing their work and caring responsibilities 
  • 1 in 4 working carers have considered giving up their job entirely as many struggle to balance their responsibilities
  • 30% have reduced their hours of work because of their caring role and 36% have refused a job offer or promotion, or decided against applying for a job, because of their caring responsibilities
  • Further, 28% had not talked to anyone at work about their caring responsibilities. Among them, 39% said this was because they did not believe anything would change.

Organisational support enhances wellness 

The research findings show compelling evidence that carers who feel supported by their organisation report better wellbeing. More specifically:
  • Among those working in organisations that provided support for working carers, 43% reported high wellbeing, compared with just 30% in organisations considered unsupportive
  • Supported working carers are also less likely to consider reducing their hours or quitting their job, potentially with lifelong consequences on carers and income.

What can organisations do?

  1. Talk to carers about what would best support them, as the most helpful solutions will often come from carers themselves.
  2. Employers should make sure they have a carer policy or guidance in place so carers know what support is available. 
  3. They should also have a clear definition of what it means to be a carer (not everyone identifies as a carer and might not think to raise the issue with their line manager/ others might not feel comfortable sharing that information if they don't think they will be supported).
  4. Link to other provisions that are helpful like Occupational Health and Employee Assistance programmes or point to external sources of support (like organisations such as Carers UK and the NHS health check and information about the carer's allowance).
  5. Flexible working can be a great support to working carers struggling to juggle work and caring commitments. Caring responsibilities can be sudden and unpredictable, so it's important to think about how to provide informal as well as more formal options for flexible working (staggered start and finish times, compressed hours, working from home and time off for important appointments).
  6. Provide training for line managers on how to support working carers. Hold regular 1-to-1's, use positive language when talking about carers, make adjustments to work patterns to support caring roles where possible and be knowledgeable about the organisation's policy and guidance. 

If you would like to explore these options in more detail, do take a look at our practical guidance to help organisations put in place proper, sustained support for working carers going forward. 

Our call to the Government around paid parental leave 

Finally, the Government is consulting on unpaid leave for working carers, but we are calling for the introduction of an annual entitlement to five days statutory paid carers' leave. We will be responding to the consultation, but we encourage you to do so as well, and to echo our call for five days paid leave if you agree with us. 

In our research with Sheffield University, fewer than on in ten (9%) working carers said that paid leave to fulfil caring responsibilities was available to them, despite this being the form of support most desired. 

Worryingly, 46% of carers had used their own annual leave to provide care, suggesting that some may be missing out on the therapeutic benefits annual leave can provide, putting them at greater risk of burnout.

About the author

Claire McCartney, Senior Policy Adviser, Resourcing and Inclusion

Claire specialises in the areas of equality, diversity and inclusion, flexible working, resourcing and talent management. She has also conducted research into meaning and trust at work, age diversity, workplace carers and enterprise and has worked on a number of international projects. She is the author of several reports and articles and regularly presents at seminars and conferences.

More thought leadership

Thought leadership
How are organisations transforming their HR operating models?

We look at the main focus areas and share practical examples from organisations who are optimising their HR operating model

Thought leadership
HR operating models

Our series on current practices, future models and successful transformations

Thought leadership
Do current HR operating models serve future needs?

We look at what’s driving change in HR structures, what emerging models look like and what to consider when evolving your current model

Thought leadership
Leveraging L&D tech to organisational advantage

How can L&D teams can engage with new technologies like generative AI to impact performance?