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Combining Work and Caring

How do you respond to an employee who receives the phone call at work to say that one of their loved ones has fallen at home and been rushed to hospital? First reaction is to be highly supportive and to say, ”I’m sorry to hear that, just go and do what you have to do and we’ll deal with your workload and meetings”. The course of the coming days and weeks is a very different thing though. Without a policy or a procedure then you and your employee are left without guidance in a very stressful and potentially life and career changing situation. How should you support and respond? How can you help?

Currently, approximately 20% of your workforce are involved in some level of care and this is rapidly increasing so the number of your workforce who are going to become Carers is going to significantly impact your bottom line and your business. Just as we have recognised the need for better support for maternity and childcare, then we must embrace this new challenge and come up with innovative solutions for age care.

Take a typical example of Jan Richards, a senior manager at a logistics company who lost her father last year, leaving her frail but stubborn mother on her own in the family home. The bathroom and toilet are upstairs and she lives 60 miles away from Jan who is the eldest and nearest child. Despite pleas to get her to move to a retirement home near to Jan, she has understandably wanted to remain close to her friends and in familiar surroundings. It’s 10.00 am Tuesday morning and Jan receives an urgent call whilst in an Ops meeting. A neighbour has found her Mother at the bottom of the stairs and it looks like she has broken her leg and her hip and gashed her head. The ambulance is on its way and could Jan come to the hospital immediately? Over the coming days, Jan is faced with trying to piece together what is going to happen next. She has to stay over at her mum’s house and look after the cat. She contacts work but can’t say when she will be able to return. As she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know and there is no central place for advice nor does she have power of attorney or any access to Mum’s finances, she is unable to sort out the care package.

If this is an occasional case then you and the organisation can cope but this is the 5th concurrent innocent like this in as many months and none of them have resolved their problems. All of those involved are highly stressed, exhausted, distracted and unable to perform their role at work. Their line managers are asking you what they should be doing to support and to try to gain control again and you are short of ideas.

Every HR and line manager we speak to has had this experience personally or with a member of staff and it is only a matter of time before we all experience it. Those of us who have – and I’ve had my own battles and period of bewilderment over the last 10 years with my father suffering from Parkinson’s and mother having a mental breakdown from the stress of looking after him – know how life changing it is and how we wished we’d had someone to guide us through the complex and constantly changing journey.

So what can you do to help?

It is important to understand where your business is today, so an anonymous survey to understand the scale of the problem is a good idea (“do you consider yourself a Carer?” – as many people don’t even think of that label – “how many hours a day to you have to provide care? how much stress and disruption is this causing to your personal life and your work life? Do you feel supported by the business? If not why not and what support ideas would you like to see?” etc). Once you have the data, look to quantify this in terms of business impact.

Get the executive management support for introducing services as part of your employee benefits programme and which provides a basis of support. There are a number of resources through tutella.co and carers.co.uk which will help you to understand the potential solutions or to ask advice from. Raise awareness and communicate regularly around the issues (making use of the frequent eldercare national awareness days). Encourage peer support, as it’s so important for employee to know they’re not the only one and it encourages awareness, understanding and support in the organisation.

Employees hate to admit anything that might be perceived as a kind of weakness – whether they believe their employer will be understanding or not – and the most important role for HR is to demonstrate how caring doesn’t need to be a problem, and that being in the workplace is part of the solution.

This month’s guest blogger is Paul Gaudin, advisor on clinical innovation to NHS England and healthcare entrepreneur, www.tutella.co

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