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Caring for the carers: how employers can help

 

Holding down a job while also being a carer is tough, but it’s something millions of people in the UK do every day.

As we’re living longer, families are under greater pressure to look after their loved ones – and this is especially true of employees whose parents have dementia.

But how do staff with such huge responsibilities juggle the demands of employment and caregiving without it affecting their own health and causing their work to suffer?

It’s a question all employers need to ask. Currently around three million people in employment look after someone elderly, disabled or ill, and the numbers of unpaid carers is set to carry on rising says charity Carers UK.

Carers who work may find it easier to balance their caring and job roles if they can change their start and finish times, alter their shift patterns, go part‐time or, if practical, work from home.

And by law, they can ask their employer if they can switch to flexible working so that they’re better able to juggle the demands of caring with those of their job.

To qualify for this right, carers must have a contract of employment and have worked continuously for their employer for at least 26 weeks. 

The law allows for one such flexible working request within a 12‐month period.

All requests should be made in writing and employers must let the employee know their decision within three months of receiving the application.

Though not obligatory, it’s recommended that employers arrange a meeting with the staff member to discuss the request in more detail and see how the potential changes might work.

Appeals must also be considered and decided upon within three months, and if you turn down the request, you must have a sound business reason for doing so.

As an employer, bear in mind, though, that not all staff will put in a request for changes to their working patterns.

HR:4UK came across a case recently of a highly competent business manager who was being ‘worn thin’ by the demands of her job and looking after elderly parents with dementia.

She loved her role and was good at it but found the daily pressures of managing her workload and her family responsibilities so difficult that she considered handing in her notice.

Reluctant to admit that she wasn’t coping, she became ill and was signed off work for a week sick with stress. Fortunately, on her return, she talked to her employer and adjustments have since been made to ease the situation. By being allowed to take calls regarding her parents’ welfare in worktime and delegating some of her heavy workload to colleagues, she has been able to continue in her job.

As this example clearly shows, there are people who prefer not to mix work and home life and the only time you’ll realise that they’re struggling is when their health and/or work is affected.

Statutory rights exist so people don’t have to choose between their jobs and unpaid caring, but greater awareness from employers goes some way to managing what is a growing national workplace issue.

For more advice on flexible working requests, please contact us on 01455 444222