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We are just a few short years away from a tipping point around caring; there will be more people that need care than there are family members to meet that demand.  An ageing population plus the rise in long term health conditions mean that we are on track to have more than 9 million carers in the UK in around twenty years.  Increasing telecare and telehealth technology means that people who need care will be staying in their own homes.

What does this mean for the workplace?  Simply, it means that many more employees will be trying to balance working and providing care.

According to recent research undertaken by Carers UK, 34% of carers feel that they have missed out on promotion or development opportunities at work.  42% of carers have taken a reduced income in order to provide that care, and it is believed that around 2m people have had to give up work altogether.

Today, there is a legal right for carers to make a flexible working request and have it duly considered by their employer.  The statutory regime though doesn’t go very far for those carers that are supporting family members with unpredictable and changing care needs.  A recent campaign is also calling on the government to introduce paid carers leave of up to five days per annum.  There is no sign as yet that this call will be heeded any time soon.

Employers need to take action to prepare their organisations for the caring explosion to come.   At Tunstall Healthcare, we are a member of Employers for Carers, and we seek to help those employees that are carers achieve a balance between the competing demands of work and home that caring brings.  What we know is that there is no simple one size fits all approach.  Just applying the basic statutory position will not be enough for employers who want to retain and support carers.   The qualifying period for requesting flexible working can be a particular barrier to those seeking to re-enter the labour market whilst still providing care.  What each carer needs is particular to their own caring situation, and the line manager in particular has a huge part to play in providing what can be crucial support.  The most important thing that any employer or line manager can do is have an open conversation about the carer’s own particular needs, working towards an agreement about what flexibility and support can be provided, without making any assumptions.

We know many employers and managers remain closed minded to flexible working, not just limited to the caring challenge.   Those employers that stick to the rigid 9-5 are going to find themselves increasing unable to attract and retain the talent they need to remain competitive in the future.   In relation to carers specifically, effective dialogue combined with an open minded approach to considering flexibility are the most effective strategies for supporting carers at work.

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