If you’re currently caring for a loved one, you already know how taxing it is, both physically and emotionally. It can also be a huge drain on your finances and career – and keeping up with your workload while supporting loved ones can seem an impossible task.
If you need the money, the fear of cutting back on work – or worse, potentially losing your job – is real. Though, sadly, this fear can stop us from speaking out when we should be asking for support.
So what are the best ways to talk to your employer about your family caregiving needs? And how many others are in the same situation?
You’re not alone – we’re having a global care crisis
First off, it’s crucial to stress how prevalent the need for care is and to remember that you’re certainly not alone. Caring for older or disabled relatives is affecting more and more people all across the world.
In the UK alone, almost five million people were struggling to juggle work with caring responsibilities in 2019, according to the Carers UK census. Four years later (and following an unprecedented global pandemic), we can imagine how much higher these numbers are.
The census also revealed that nearly half a million Brits said they’d had to give up work over the past two years to adequately care for their loved ones – with people over the age of 45 being most likely to do so – but, according to Carers UK, the numbers are potentially much higher. Their research found that 17% of the population provided unpaid care – that’s almost nine million adults. And again, that’s without factoring in the pandemic.
Looking at the type of care that caregivers need, things like flexible working, having a supportive employer, and being offered paid care leave are usually always the top priorities. But, while 38% of respondents to the census said their employers offered flexible working, only 12% were offered paid care leave.
Of course, this standard of support just isn’t enough. Caring for loved ones can take a huge toll on your physical health, mental wellbeing, finances, and work-life balance, so it’s important to be able to speak frankly to your employers about your situation.
While that’s often easier said than done, there’s some good news too. More and more companies are waking up to the positive consequences of better supporting their employees.
The pandemic shone a light on the importance of valuing and protecting staff members, and in many cases, employers just aren’t aware of what caregivers are going through – because it isn’t something that’s often spoken about.
So, if you’d like more support from your employer when it comes to caregiving, here are the best ways to do so.
How to talk to your employer about family caregiving needs
1. Talk to HR
Before you speak to your employer or manager, it’s best to have a chat with Human Resources beforehand. Ask the HR team about any company policies and programmes that help to support caregivers, as some organisations have pre-existing policies and staff benefits for carers.
One of the most significant policies to ask about is the Carer Passport Scheme. A Carer Passport is basically a record that informs your company that you’re a carer, and it offers both employers and employees a straightforward path to getting support – which begins with a discussion of the different ways they can assist you. It could involve specific offers of services, support, or other benefits to help you combine your caring responsibility with your work.
If your company doesn’t have a Carer Passport Scheme, they may be interested in starting one. You may want to share this ‘Why set up a scheme?’ article with them, so they can find out more, and understand how the scheme would benefit them too. Aside from supporting employees, Carer Passport Schemes also raise awareness of caring and provide assistance to managers and HR staff.
If your company doesn’t have a Carer Passport Scheme, they may still offer other resources that can help. Some companies offer caregiving leave and flexible working, and others may help you find community services, legal aid, or financial assistance.
Even if your company has no policies currently in place, identifying yourself as a carer is an important step – and may be the prompt they need to begin putting policies in place.
2. Speak to your employer
After you’ve spoken with HR and scoped out your company’s policies around caregiving, the next step is to talk to your employer or manager.
Many people, understandably, want to keep family issues private and aren’t comfortable sharing personal information, but telling your employer about your caring role means they’ll be better able to understand – and better able to support you.
Feeling as though your boss is on your side can go a long way in boosting your confidence at work – and from an employer’s perspective, replacing staff is very expensive! Decent employers don’t want to lose decent employees, and most should try to work with you to find solutions that suit you both.
Before you speak to your employer, however, it’s important to be prepared. Rather than just spontaneously asking your manager for a chat, tell them in advance there’s something you’d like to discuss with them in private, and find a time that’s convenient for you both. If they suggest booking a quick 10-minute catch-up, don’t be afraid to ask for longer – as this is a conversation that shouldn’t be rushed.
To prepare for the meeting, have a think about the points you want to discuss and write them down so you don’t forget. You should try to be clear about what you want to say and what outcome you’re hoping for. Are there any solutions or policies you particularly want to discuss?
It’s also a good idea to be able to explain how your caring role has affected your work already – for example, have you missed deadlines, or needed to take time off without notice?
Try to explain how difficult it’s been trying to juggle work and caregiving, and if there are specific things that have helped you (or haven’t), these should be mentioned too.
Remember that you don’t need to go into details about the condition of the person you’re caring for. But explaining the nature of your role, and its challenges and complexities, can help your employer understand how they can support you.
3. Have some solutions in mind
While it will always be beneficial to let your employers know about your caregiving role, and to be able to speak openly about the demands it places on you, it can also be helpful to offer up some specific solutions during your conversation.
Flexible working is one of the most common ways employers can support caregivers. If you’ve been working for your employer for more than 26 weeks, you have the right to ask for a contract change that allows flexible working. Your employer must seriously consider your request and can only dismiss it if there are serious business grounds to do so. To find out more about applying for flexible work, head over to the official government site.
Aside from changing your contract to a flexible way of working, there are many other ways your company may be able to support you.
Some of these include…
- Change in work hours
- Employee assistance programmes
- Financial and legal counselling
- Internal support groups
- Job sharing
- Leaves of absence
- Personal days
- Therapy opportunities through work health insurance
- Wellness resources
- Working remotely for one or two days a week
Whatever solutions you suggest, it will be really helpful to stress that you want to work with your employers, not against them, and find a solution that benefits you both.
4. Keep your worth in mind
While it’s important to be realistic and understand that many employers simply can’t offer flexible remote working or long leaves of absence, it’s crucial to keep your own worth in mind at all times.
Your employer should be motivated to keep you happy and productive at work, and all employers know how costly it is to find replacements for staff members, should you have to leave.
While this probably isn’t something you should bring up, you should feel free to talk about the benefits your employer will also experience from you receiving more support. It’s widely known that caregiving can seriously impact work-life balance – and it goes without saying that this will in turn negatively affect work performance.
Finding a solution will benefit you both and you should feel comfortable talking about what you’ve already done to try to make your difficult situation work. If you’ve suffered negative effects, either at work or in your caregiving role, don’t be afraid to share them. Employers should be aware of how crucial it is to find mutually beneficial solutions for you both.
5. End on a positive note
After you’ve explained your situation and suggested the solutions you feel you’d benefit from, it’s always good to end on a positive note. Not only will this emphasise your commitment to your job and employer, but it’ll also show that you have a positive, open-minded attitude to working together to find a solution.
Try to take care to end your conversation by thanking your employer for listening, and allowing you to speak frankly.
Do bear in mind that it may take some time before your employer, or HR, comes back to you with their suggestions or solutions – and there may be follow-up questions. If you’re asked for proof relating to your caregiving role, try not to be offended. In most cases, this will be for HR, and company policy purposes and not because your employer doesn’t believe you.
In the meantime, you might want to apply for a Carers’ Assessment. This is an assessment from your local authority that looks for ways to make carers’ lives easier.
It might allow you to take advantage of things like free gym membership and exercise classes to relieve stress, financial support with taxi services if you don’t drive, help with housework, putting you in touch with local carer support groups, and finding respite care so you can have a proper break now and then.
Being a caregiver for a loved one is an incredibly challenging job, and if people haven’t experienced it themselves, it can be difficult for them to imagine the impact it can have on almost every area of your life. That’s why it’s so important to have honest conversations with people about your experiences – not only so they can understand, but so that they can help make your life a bit easier.
The idea of talking about your caregiving role and the negative effect it’s having on your work can be scary. Though, remember that managers and HR staff are there to help you.
Having an open conversation about your situation might be difficult, but it’s also the first step to making your work-life balance more manageable – and hopefully, your life happier and less stressful too.
For more information on ways you can find guidance and support for carers, as well as look after your own wellbeing, you can head over to the care section of our website.