7 May 2019
In this guest blog originally featured on the Timewise Foundation, two of Ageing Better’s team talk about the support available for people who want to balance work and caring responsibilities.
One employee who has experienced the charity’s supportive and proactive attitude to carers is Lucinda Crowther, Programme Business Manager.
“I have both formal and informal caring responsibilities. Twenty years ago, my husband had a rugby accident, so he's a tetraplegic and in a wheelchair. He’s very independent and is in work, but things with him can change in a heartbeat. I also care for my mum who is a widow, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy last year.”
Before joining the Centre for Ageing Better, Lucinda found that temporary employment contracts were the most flexible fit to match her caring responsibilities. She later took a temping role at the Centre for Ageing Better, where she discovered the benefits of an employer that both recognises and supports carers.
“I raised it on my first day when we talked about hours. I’ve found that it helps if you can give employers an idea of the kind of thing that can happen – to help them understand your responsibilities. I said, ‘I have a husband in a wheelchair, he does work, but occasionally I will get a phone call and I’ll have to leave. I hope this is OK’. Then I explained how one time he had an accident at work and he couldn’t get home, and in this case, I had to drop everything, help him home and work there for the afternoon. They said 'absolutely' – they didn’t even blink an eyelid.”
More of us are living for longer and more people have caring responsibilities. That needs supporting from employers.
To help build their strategy to support carers such as Lucinda, the Centre for Ageing Better has signed up to Employers for Carers, supported by Carers UK. The guidelines and advice have enabled Ageing Better to create a flexible working policy that changes alongside employees’ needs.
As Sharon says, “Life changes, so we make sure employees can change from full- to part-time. They can work around our core working hours, or they can work compressed hours. We also have a carers’ leave policy where we offer up to five days’ paid leave for people with caring responsibilities in emergencies.”
In practice, the flexible working policy at the Centre for Ageing Better has made a difference to Lucinda who, like most carers, can find herself overwhelmed by her responsibilities.
“I went down from five days to four. I needed a day off for me because the weekend is taken up with doing things for my husband. Sometimes the caring and work commitments can be overwhelming, so when I need to, I have a separate conversation with my manager about that, and we talk about whether I need an extra half day or something to look after myself. Because that is the way of the carer – sometimes the last person they look after is themselves. I also have a formal check-in every month to see how I’m coping. But we also catch up informally.”
At the Centre for Ageing Better, they do this for every employee, not just carers.
In fact, Sharon points out that there are many carers in the workforce who don’t recognise themselves as such. “We asked people in the company on a diversity questionnaire, who would consider themselves a carer. Interestingly, it came really low and I knew there were more staff who would be classified as carers. So, we’re doing what we can to say to our staff, ‘It’s OK, we’ll do what we can to support you. We are a charity, so there is a limit, but we are here and we are able to help.’”
When looking for flexible employment, Sharon recommends that carers visit Employers for Carers. “This list of members is a good start. And research employers to see what their take on carers is. There’s no need to disclose it as any part of the recruitment process. It’s more for the employer to make reasonable adjustments when someone comes on-board.”
Lucinda says it’s taken her 15 years and a more positive attitude toward carer employees in the work environment to reach this conclusion, but now her mantra is: “Don’t be afraid. Apply for jobs and ask about flexible options - you don’t have to explain why. You should also always put yourself first and apply for things that interest you, with the chance to be flexible. And lastly, don’t apologise for being a carer. That’s what I used to do, but you don’t have to now, because employers are finding that carers have a lot to offer and we make such a loyal workforce.”
First published by Timewise.