Caring for Carers at Work: A guide for HR and business leaders

In today’s evolving professional landscape, the roles we play are diversifying and overlapping in ways we could hardly have imagined a decade ago. This shift has necessitated a re-evaluation of what it means to be an employee, a manager, and a leader. It has also brought into focus an often under recognised group within our workforces: working carers.

Working carers are individuals who, alongside their professional responsibilities, provide care for loved ones. This dual role, although incredibly demanding, enriches lives with compassion, resilience, and adaptability. As HR professionals and managers, understanding and supporting these employees is not just beneficial but crucial for a thriving work environment.

So, how do we care for our carers at work?

Are your employees carers?

If your employees spend a significant amount of time and/or energy caring for someone who is disabled, ill or has mental health issues, then they could be considered a carer. 

Sense UK describes your employees as carers if they:

  • support elderly parents with day-to-day tasks such as cleaning, shopping, admin, or social visits for company
  • help a loved one with a disability
  • are parents caring for a neurodiverse child

They may well live with the person they are caring for or they may visit once a week. 

The rising number of working carers

In recent years, the number of working carers has seen a significant increase. This surge is due in part to the ageing population and changes in family structures. The Covid-19 pandemic has also accelerated this trend, as work and personal life have become more interwoven than ever before.  The cost of living crisis has put more pressure on finances, meaning that the option of paying for care privately may not be feasible for many at all any more.  In addition, the pressure on the NHS and the declining pool of qualified carers means that even state-funded care is stretched. 

The impact on businesses

The dual role of carer and professional often results in a high level of stress, which, without the right support, can lead to decreased productivity and increased employee turnover. On the flip side, when businesses provide tailored support to working carers, they contribute significantly to their employees’ wellbeing and the success of their organisation.

A supportive environment for working carers helps foster a culture of empathy and understanding, which resonates with all employees, not just those with caregiving responsibilities. It sends a powerful message about the company’s values, helping to attract and retain top talent in today’s competitive market.

Moreover, acknowledging and supporting the caregiving roles of employees can also enhance their skill sets. Working carers often display exceptional communication and personal skills, such as empathy and patience, as well as more practical skills such as time management, problem-solving skills, and a high level of resilience – attributes that can greatly benefit your organisation.

What type of support do carers want?

According to a report from Business in the Community Princes Trust, it was found that the majority of carers (62%) favour organisations that empower them with the flexibility to address their caregiving responsibilities as required.

The provision of comprehensive information and guidance to external support resources is an invaluable asset for carers. Only 42% of the UK public would feel confident pointing people in the direction of information about caring, so the workplace can be a crucial source of information.

This indicates a significant gap in accessible resources, which underlines the pivotal role that the workplace can play as a key source of such information:

  • Only a third of employers (34%) have a formal written policy or an informal verbal policy in place to support carers – decreasing to only 18% for private sector employers.
  • Carers UK and Employers for Carers found that nearly one in four carers (23%) do not receive any support from their employer.
  • Employers for Carers found that 71% of working carers have felt lonely or isolated in the workplace as a result of being a carer.
  • Carers UK report that over a third (35%) of carers have given up work to care and 16% have reduced their hours.
  • Only 4% of carers say caring has no impact on their capacity to work.
  • 43% of carers feel that colleagues and managers do not understand the impact of caring.
  • A survey of distance carers found that 43% felt their work had been negatively affected by caring and that they felt tired, stressed and anxious. One in ten cared for more than one person.

How to care for carers at work: Creating a supportive work environment for carers

To care for your carers at work it’s important to create an understanding and inclusive work environment for working carers. This involves policy adjustments, flexible work arrangements, and most importantly, a cultural shift.

Here are some steps businesses can take when caring for carers at work:

Step 1. Encourage open dialogue: Foster a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their caregiving responsibilities. This open dialogue can help you understand their unique needs and challenges.  Consider setting up an internal carers support group for employees facing the same difficulties to feel less isolated.

Step 2. Implement flexible work arrangements: Flexibility is vital for working carers. Consider options like remote working, flexible hours, or job-sharing.

Step 3. Provide resources and support: Offer resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) which can provide counselling and other support services. Partner with organizations that provide support for carers and share these resources with your employees.

Step 4. Recognise and reward: Recognise the skills and qualities that working carers bring to the table. This recognition can come in the form of career development opportunities or rewards for their contributions.

Step 5: Keep abreast of regulation: The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 is likely to be implemented in April 2024. This Act give employees with caring responsibilities the legal right to take five days’ off each year to carry out those responsibilities for someone who is old, has a disability or an illness/injury lasting more than 3 months. The days will be unpaid and can be taken in full days or half days.

It is time we give working carers the recognition and support they deserve. Let’s create workplaces where every employee, regardless of their personal circumstances, feels valued, supported, and equipped to deal with the day-to-day pressures they face.  Let them know that we understand what they are going through and that we support and champion their health and wellbeing.

Supporting working carers is an investment that yields rich dividends in the form of a more engaged, resilient, and diverse workforce.

For an employer’s toolkit visit:

For an employee’s guide developed by Carers for Carers click here – This carers’ guide focuses on striking a balance between professional life and caregiving responsibilities. This guide highlights the top 10 life skills developed by carers, which can greatly assist in managing both aspects effectively. It also includes a compelling real-life case study to illustrate these skills in action.

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