Why business must care about carers
As populations age rapidly in Western nations, organisations are going to have to learn to care for the carers in their workforces.
Improve wellbeing, lower turnover?
In Australia, around one in eight workers are also carers, and as the population ages the number of carers will only increase. Some carers are highly visible - typically mothers of babies and young children who can often benefit from time-off and flexible working patterns.
Over 50 million people are carers in the USA, and as the population ages, the number of carers will only increase. Some carers are highly visible - typically mothers of babies and young children who can often benefit from time-off and flexible working patterns.
Most carers, however, care for the aged, the disabled, the frail, or for those with chronic conditions or mental health problems. For these carers, the working environment can be a difficult and very different place.
Carers Canada estimates that 35% of employed Canadians (6.1 million workers) are carers, contributing $25bn to the healthcare system in unpaid labor every year. However, while these carers try to balance their responsibilities, employers lose approximately 18 million work days and £1.3bn in productivity.
Ten years ago, a research study by Deakin University - with Carers Australia and Australian Unity - revealed the frightening fact that carers had the lowest collective wellbeing of any group they had measured.
This is very big news for organisations whose policies around flexible working and workplace support often only extend to mothers with babies.
Much of the reasoning behind this was the fact that the careers of carers, and therefore their incomes and sense of self, took a nosedive as soon as their lives became about caring for somebody else.
In an era of talent shortages, this is very big news for organisations whose policies around flexible working and workplace support often only extend to mothers with babies, rather than carers as a broad group.
Recognition of an invisible workforce
“Businesses first need to recognise that they have carers in their workforce,” said Elena Katrakis, CEO of Carers NSW. “I don’t think that recognition exists already. Businesses have to understand what it is to be a carer for a family member or a friend; what does that mean in terms of their time and their capacity to balance those responsibilities with their employment responsibilities.”
What do caring responsibilities have to do with a business’s bottom line? Plenty, Elena stated. Businesses that manage this issue well will likely find themselves fast becoming employers of choice, attracting and retaining talent as others shed staff and lose corporate memory.
By keeping staff on board, you have the benefit of corporate knowledge, of a deep understanding of the work environment and the business.
“If a business is doing what it can to maintain carers in its workforce, it is reducing recruitment costs and redeployment costs and all of those things associated with having to bring somebody new in,” Elena explained.
“By keeping staff on board, you have the benefit of corporate knowledge, of a deep understanding of the work environment and the business. Plus, staff that feel supported by their business are more productive. That means there absolutely is a financial benefit for the employer.”
What does it look like when a company cares for its carers?
Elena pointed out that such businesses will have relevant policies in place around flexible working, policies that are not simply left in a drawer and forgotten.
Managers in such businesses receive regular training around the requirements of carers and are encouraged to utilise the company’s policies to allow carers to meet their work and life responsibilities.
There is the very real fact that everybody, at some stage in their life, will be a carer or be cared for.
“People mustn’t ever feel there is a stigma in asking for assistance or disclosing that they are a carer,” she said. “It should become the norm, just as it is for parents with young children. There must be flexible work arrangements that carers feel safe to utilise without negative repercussions.”
Finally, there is the very real fact that everybody, at some stage in their life, will be a carer or be cared for. Businesses then, have a responsibility to society in supporting those who are doing the caring.
“Studies have shown that the impact of care on a carer’s health and wellbeing is negative,” highlighted Elena. “By providing support for carers, and ensuring carers remain in the workforce, you are minimising that impact on their health and wellbeing.”
About the author
Chris Sheedy is one of Australia’s busiest and most successful freelance writers. He has been published regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Virgin Australia Voyeur, The Australian Magazine, GQ, In The Black, Cadillac, Management Today, Men’s Fitness and countless other big-brand publications. He is frequently commissioned to carry out copywriting and corporate writing projects for organisations, including banks, universities, television networks, restaurant chains and major charities, through his business The Hard Word.