How can we all support carers in our workplace?

Suzanne Bourne explains how you can support your colleagues who are carers.

Caring for an elderly relative


Employers can take basic steps to be carer friendly, but without the buy in and engagement from the whole team policies and ideals can have little impact. The good news is we don’t even need to wait for our employers to take the lead; we can start our own personal carer friendly revolutions.

Being a carer friendly colleague

Not everyone will call themselves a carer, but perhaps they have mentioned they are looking after an elderly parent, their partner has been diagnosed with a long-term or terminal condition, or their child is living with a disability.

And how are you?

It is natural to ask after their loved one and ask how things are. Asking them how they are too is just as important (perhaps even more so). How are you coping? Is there anything you need? Shall we walk and talk? How about a coffee and a chat about you?

I met with a group of carers recently. Being in a safe group with other carers they spoke freely and one lady said “I love that people care enough to ask me how the person I am caring for is doing. It feels really selfish, but I just wish someone would ask me how I am for a change and be there to hear my answer!” Everyone agreed and thanked her for having the courage to say it and reassured her that she was not selfish.

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

Listening is quite a skill, but luckily one we can all get better at. A few things to consider:

  • Listen with the intention of understanding; don’t sit there thinking about your reply
  • Don’t try and fix the person or the problem
  • Talking about other people in a similar situation is rarely helpful
  • Let them know that you have heard them and that you care
  • Tears and silence are ok, be with them in that moment
  • Be open to further conversations
  • Look after yourself – you don’t now own this person’s troubles, encourage them to connect with other support. Having made this first step they may feel more able to do that.

How else can we support the unpaid carers we work with?

Be understanding if they have had to take leave suddenly, arrive late or leave early. They may well be feeling guilty about this as well as feeling guilty about being at work and not with their loved one. Allowing them to put that guilt down is powerful.

Read up on what policies and support are available. It’s all very well having a carers leave policy, but it will have little impact if it is not used.

Champion the cause; perhaps your employer could be more carer friendly. If carers are juggling work and caring they may not have the time, energy or vision to campaign for change.

Small actions count a lot

Honouring what carers are doing in some way is important – a kind note when returning to work after an intense period of caring, a sweet treat on a day when they are exhausted from being up all night, a home cooked meal to take home for dinner when there just doesn’t seem like enough hours in the day.

If you work in an office together let them off their turn to make the tea (for a while work was the only place where someone else made me a cup of tea!). If you work remotely a brief chat that’s not about work or a light hearted email can break the loneliness of the day.

Simple things that cost you almost nothing. If you’ve got some other ideas too I’d love to hear them.

*Suzanne Bourne is a coach and facilitator at who specialises in coaching for carers.

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