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How flexible working can support carers


It’s never been more important to help carers find their footing in the workplace

There are around seven million carers in Britain and this figure is rising. By 2030, it’s believed the number of people looking after a partner, relative or friend with disabilities or serious health conditions will increase to more than ten million.

According to the charity Carers Trust, a large percentage of those caring for others are of working age, with 67% of carers employed – one in eight of the UK’s workforce. Of those who are not working, more than half would like to do so.

Many carers who do work are dependent on their income to support families and loved ones. They may also feel passionate about their job and are trying to build a career. But combining a successful work life with caring responsibilities can prove difficult, sometimes overwhelmingly so.

A young person's hands cradling an older person's hands

According to parliamentary report Employment Support for Carers, published in 2018, many carers “conclude that caring and work cannot be combined”. With one in five giving up employment to care for a loved one (600 people a day quit work to do this, according to Carers UK), it begs the question: what can be done to make balancing the two more manageable?

One answer comes in the form of flexible working. But what does this actually mean? With the rapid development of technology, the 21st-century workscape is changing. People want to work smarter. Eschewing the constraints of working from one set place and questioning the long-hours culture, they want to do it their way – in the best style and format to suit them.

This could be through compressed working hours, job share, part-time work or working remotely. Whatever the route, a healthy work-life balance is a priority and flexible working facilitates this. Indeed, according to a recent survey conducted by global flexible workspace provider IWG, over 80% of workers worldwide say they would prioritise a role that offered flexible working options.

Ask any employee who has looked after or continues to care for a dependent, and it’s likely they’ll feel the same way. Being a carer can be a time-consuming, complex role, exhausting physically and emotionally, so giving them flexibility could go a long way to supporting carers in the workplace.

“People who are carers are often not necessarily identified in the workplace,” Emily Holzhausen, director of policy and public affairs at Carers UK, told People Management. “This can in part be changed by introducing different employment practices… As our population ages, the number of carers is only going to increase, so we need to be thinking ahead.”

Allowing carers to work remotely, for example, so that they’re nearer home and managing their own hours, would leave more time for other responsibilities. Regus, with its ever-expanding network of office space, offers flexible working at a location, time and a price that suits. Working in a collaborative environment, with a shorter commute and the ability to control one’s time, could be one step in the right direction.

Under existing law, all employees have the right to request flexible working, though there are stipulations. You must, for example, have been with your employer for at least 26 weeks. Any less time, and it’s up to the employer’s discretion but they have to, by law, consider all statutory requests.

Other ways employers can support staff who have caring responsibilities, says Acas, is by offering flexible leave arrangements to cover intensive periods of care or the opportunity to take career breaks. After all, if businesses support carers in their workforce, they’re more likely to attract and retain skilled staff.

As last year’s parliamentary report concludes: “Flexible working is a crucial factor in many carers being able to juggle caring responsibilities and work. For other carers, work would be an option if they were able to work flexibly. There is a growing body of evidence that flexible working is not just good for the employee, but also highly beneficial to the employer. It is, in many cases, a win-win.”

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