Supporting working carers

For Carers Week 2021 is highlighting how IBM supports working carers like Vivien Kwok Bastow.

Work desk


Vivien Kwok Bastow is one of the so-called sandwich generation. She has three children, aged seven, 11 and 13, and has also been caring for her father who has vascular dementia for the last nine years.

Vivien is Global Mobility Tax Lead at IBM, winner of’s 2021 Top Employer Award for Diversity & Inclusion. She has worked from home for 10 years and says that, during that time, her managers have changed, but have always been very understanding. As she works in a global team she has greater flexibility over her hours and says she always tells her managers if anything unexpected happens and is generally able to flex around that. Moreover, working from home means she has greater flexibility to take calls at times of the days that suit her colleagues in other time zones, for instance, India and the Philippines.

She says she didn’t realise she was a carer until four years into caring for her father. “I wasn’t paid to do it and the term ‘carer’ didn’t sit comfortably with me,” she says.

Her father now lives next door to her, having moved there eight years ago after her mother died suddenly of cancer. Vivien was able to take compassionate leave at the time, meaning she spent the last 20 days of her mother’s life looking after her and talking to her, something she calls “a gift from IBM”. “They could have given me one million pounds, but I would rather have had that time with my mum,” she says.

Her father’s move was initially to make sure he wasn’t lonely and had someone to have dinner with or do the shopping for him. “We wanted to keep things as normal as possible for him,” says Vivien, “and I could keep an eye on him.”

As the dementia progressed, her father started going out and getting lost more and more frequently. That meant Vivien would have to go out looking for him. Initially he was able to drive so he could get quite far. She had a tracker fitted and would drive around trying to find him, having informed her managers about what had happened. Her father no longer drives now. He has also flooded his house several times and Vivien has had to clean up; he has lost his house keys or forgotten to eat; and he has had several unplanned overnight stays in hospital.

Changing demands

The demands on Vivien have yo yoed over the years and there can be long periods of nothing happening. “It’s really unpredictable,” she says, “but having him next door, being able to work from home, to work fully flexibly and manage my own time and having an understanding manager means I have peace of mind.”

Three years ago her father had a fall and broke his hip. Vivien was there at the time and able to get him to hospital. For several weeks afterwards she worked from the hospital. Now her father has live-in carers, but Vivien still needs to be on hand as he gets confused and has largely forgotten his English so only speaks Cantonese and she is better able to persuade him to do things he doesn’t want to than his carers.

Working carer support

Recognising the importance of support for carers as a result of her own experience, Vivien helps to coordinate IBM’s carers business resource group which has over 100 members. Over the pandemic it has been focusing on advice, support, self-care, case studies, sharing stories and blogs, virtual coffee mornings and raising the profile of carers within IBM. It has a microsite and a newsletter as well as a Slack forum.

“We are there for when people need us or want to talk or feel alone. Even just chatting can make you feel better and knowing that there is someone who is in a similar situation can reduce the stigma. People don’t really speak about caring. It’s not something you shout out about. We intend to change that. The more people who speak up about it the better.”

Vivien says that, without the support of IBM, she thinks she would have had to go part time, which would have impacted how well she could do her job and even whether she could do a job at such a senior level. In fact, she was promoted a couple of years ago. “I cannot imagine having the role I have and the level of responsibility at another company,” she states. “I do not see other companies being so understanding. That is a huge reason to stay.”

*This case study appears in the’s Best Practice Report 2021, which is published this week. You can download it for free. More information here.

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