‘Companies should do more to identify carers’ needs’

More should be done by companies to identify the needs of employees who are caring for elderly relatives, a webinar heard this week.

More should be done by companies to identify the needs of employees who are caring for elderly relatives, according to a recent webinar for HR and diversity leaders.

The Elder Care: The Elephant in the Room webinar, hosted by Jennifer Liston-Smith of My Family Care, was attended by around 100 HR and diversity leaders, showing a growing interest among employers in this issue. Working Mother magazine in the US recently identified elder care as being the biggest reason that women currently leave the workplace. Many are struggling to cope with elder care and childcare responsibilities at the same time.

The webinar panel consisted of Hugh Neal, head of KPMG’s carers network, Christine Moore, head of BT People Consulting and Stephen Burke form United for All Ages and The Good Care Guide.

Burke said there were six million careers in the UK and half were currently working – that was one in eight of the workforce. This showed the scale of the problem, he said, although research suggests many people who have caring responsibilities do not identify themselves as carers as they associate the term carers with live-in caring.

Hugh Neal said a significant proportion of these were men, even if women were still more likely to take on a caring role. "Many men don’t like to admit they are careers because they feel it might limit their career progression or they feel it shows weakness," he said. That meant they were often underrepresented in the caring statistics.

Of those taking part in the webinar, around a quarter are in companies which are doing something to address carers’ needs or feel they should be doing so because they have a lot of older workers. 

The webinar discussed the lack of debate within the media about what employers do for carers, despite the coverage of issues relating to the growing number of elderly people. It also mentioned the lack of Government action on the issue of elder care in general. Stephen Burke said the campaign for extending vouchers for childcare to elder care had been going for five years and was not even mentioned in the recent Dilnott review, which he felt had been "kicked into the long grass" in any event.

He added that some progressive employers like BT and KPMG had recognised the issue of elder care early on and realised that, for instance, offering flexible working to all staff could help deal with some of the problems. He said support need not be expensive. Just offering information and advice and pointing staff in the right direction could be very helpful and was not costly. An online portal was a good way to do this, said Hugh Neal, since staff could access this at any time.

The panel agreed that it was crucial for employers to identify the caring needs of their staff. Christine Moore said that to get people to come forward so employers know what the issues are it was necessary to create a culture of trust.  "You need a culture which supports people coming forward to talk about their caring roles," she said. She also spoke of what BT had  done to promote caring issues, including establishing carers networks and running managing carers sessions for managers.

Hugh Neal added that having a champion at the top of an organisation was really important to promote carers’ issues throughout an organisation.

Those taking part in the webinar were polled about what they felt was the main thing holding their organisation back in terms of elder care support. The poll found 61% felt it was a lack of data. Some 41% blamed lack of senior management buy-in. Hugh Neal said more education was needed for senior managers about elder care issues.

Jennifer Liston-Smith summed up and pointed out that there were many things employers could do which were relatively simple, but could make a lot of difference. For instance, they could provide incentives for employees who wished to act as champions for elder care and lead carers networks. They could also look to identify potential carers before a crisis hit, she said. Providing support at the right time would work well for both employers and employees in the long run.

To listen to the webinar, click here

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