Employers should be looking at employee journeys through a lifecycle lens and preparing younger workers for the kind of work life issues they might face later in their careers, an event on older workers and carers heard yesterday.
Staying Power: Best Practice for 50+ and Carers Think Tank event was organised by My Family Care and hosted by IBM.
Caroline Waters, Vice President of Carers UK, said caring should be normalised at work. It wasn’t unusual and employers needed to recognise that and support their workers.
The event heard that it is estimated that one in nine of the workforce is a carer of a relative or friend, although many don’t identify as such. At least four million people in the UK will have care needs by 2025 and that the number of those with dementia was projected to rise from 800,000 to two million by 2025. With demand for care growing, were facing cuts and staff shortages, meaning more caring responsibilities are likely to fall on individuals.
Waters said looking at work through a lifecycle lens was “the responsible and compassionate thing to do”. That meant helping employees in their 20s and 30s to prepare for the kind of caring challenges they might meet in their later career and giving them the skills to be able to stay healthy.
Waters was formerly Director of People and Policy at BT which was a pioneer of carers leave, carers networks and flexible working. It also launched a carer passport to ensure carers could progress their careers. The passport informs their new line manager about their caring issues so they can settle into a new role without having to have in-depth conversations at such an early stage. “It opens things up and allows people to move,” said Waters, adding that a culture of openness was important.
She said the first six weeks was a critical period for carers. They could often feel overwhelmed. “They often cannot imagine how to make it work. It’s an emotional rollercoaster too. They may suddenly feel very incapable and there is a danger that could affects all areas of their life,” she said. “They need to be flooded with help, support and compassion so they can feel confident about dealing with it and see the broader horizon.” She spoke about her own situation as a carer, saying: “I could see tomorrow, but I couldn’t see 30 more tomorrows.”
Deborah Richards, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at IBM, had also introduced a life cycle approach and IBM is launching their own carer passport initiative later this month. IBM also has a flexible leave arrangement so managers can agree leave for carers in emergency situations. Richards showed a video of carers speaking about their experience and the support they had received. One woman spoke about caring for her father who has vascular dementia. She works from home and is very open about her caring responsibilities. Working from home means she can get to her father quickly if she needs to. He sometimes goes missing and a tracker helps her to locate him. She described a situation where he went missing one day and she was able to find him, drop him home and jump onto a conference call soon after.
Sarah Churchman, Chief Inclusion and Wellbeing Officer at PwC, spoke about her own experience, caring for her seriously ill mother while also dealing with small children and a senior job. She said it was vital to shift work culture to accommodate the needs of the four generations now in the workforce, given people are working longer. Everyday flexibility and role modelling were crucial. PwC has a Space network which embraces family support issues and it also makes building individual and team resilience a core skill in its professional leadership curriculum. In addition there are toolkits and tips to help support carers, an employee assistance helpline and back-up and emergency care and expert advice provided by My Family Care.
Other employer initiatives mentioned include Aviva’s scheme to match unpaid parental leave with carer’s leave. Transport for London is launching a carer passport this week for Carers Week. Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said they give carers passports to take back to their workplaces. They can use the passports to access hospital parking when they visit.
The event also heard from Age UK and Employers for Carers who work with employers on caring issues. Madeleine Starr, Director of Business Development and Innovation, said Age UK was reviving an e-learning programme to recognise the soft skills carers have. This would include digital badges.
Also on the agenda was the ageing workforce. Jennifer Liston-Smith, Director, Head of Coaching & Consultancy at My Family Care, said the skills shortage meant employers needed to look at how to retain, retrain and recruit workers over 50. Statistics showed that there was a significant drop-out rate between the ages of 50 and 60 – 84% of 50 year olds were in employment compared to 63% of 60 year olds. Assumptions were made that older workers didn’t want to progress and they often missed out on training, she said. Often the assumptions were highly gendered and issues like making adjustments for the menopause were gradually creeping onto the agenda of more progressive employers.