By 2020, the number of centenarians in the UK is expected to rise by 40% and inevitably, as the population ages, a significant proportion of people at work will be caring for ill and elderly relatives. This major demographic shift, affecting both society and the workplace, is putting extra pressure on employees who're having to balance their own working life with the practical and emotional responsibilities of organising care, or carrying out some degree of informal and unpaid care themselves.

Recent research from the CIPD on the demands placed on working parents, reveals that employers still have a long way to go in supporting workers with caring responsibilities. Rachel Suff, Employment Relations Adviser at the CIPD, comments:

'With the so-called "sandwich generation", affecting people who are increasingly required to care for their ageing parents or relatives while still supporting their own children, flexible working and support for working carers are key to many being able to stay in work. Employers need to review their support for carers, before they lose valuable talent from across their workforce.'

As Rachel Suff rightly points out, one of the more effective types of support that employers can give to working carers, is offering them flexibility in their working hours. The adjustments don't necessarily need to be offered on a large scale to make a significant difference to an employee who’s struggling to reconcile the demands of their job with those of their caring role.

However, the CIPD’s survey of over 1,000 HR professionals reveals that only 30% of employers are proactively promoting flexible working options, and just 3% have a dedicated policy dealing with eldercare. These findings serve as a warning bell to organisations who need to step up and recognise the need to provide, and communicate, a comprehensive package of support for workers with eldercare responsibilities. It is possible of course that the 30% who're offering alternatives such as job-share, part-time hours and term-time working, could be benefiting some employees who’re caring for elderly relatives. But, this is undoubtedly a wake-up call for the remaining 70%, who need to think more creatively about the level of support and flexibility that employees are increasingly going to need to offer. The longer-term gain for employers who take this step could be the enhanced retention of valuable skills and talent as life expectancy rises and many more people start to take on caring responsibilities.

The prime focus of the CIPD’s report on working parents is maternity and paternity provision in the workplace, including the take-up of Shared Parental Leave and attitudes towards legislative changes that are due to come into force in 2017. The report clearly shows that support for working parents is currently inadequate, and in response the CIPD is calling for the UK Government and employers to take action.

HR has a crucial role to play in promoting this important agenda and as part of the Steps Ahead Mentoring programme, the CIPD is offering support to carers and parents who’re looking to return to work. The programme, which matches CIPD volunteers with parents and carers hoping to re-enter the labour market, aims to boost their employability skills and increase their chances of finding suitable employment.

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At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.