Carers Week – The perfect time to celebrate the working carers & parents in your organisation

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How many carers do you have in your organisation? There are 2.7 million carers in Australia, which is about 12% of the population. This means it’s very likely a good portion of your employees are carers in some capacity.

“The chances are you personally are a carer, need a carer or know a carer” Carers Australia.[1]

Next week Carers Week will be celebrated from the 12th-18th of October. It’s the perfect time to learn more about the unpaid carers working in your organisation. A carer is anyone who provides ‘unpaid care and support to family members and friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug issue or who are frail aged’ (Carers Australia).

Some quick statistics on why we need to focus on this group of workers:

  • Over 1.5 million carers are of working age (18-64) [2]
  • The estimated annual replacement value of care provided in 2012 is over $40.9 billion[3]
  • It is estimated that carers provided 1.32 billion hours of unpaid care in 2010, with productivity loss estimated at $6.5 billion[4]
  • The labour force participation rate for primary carers (42%) and other carers (63%) was lower than that for non-carers aged 15 years or more (69%)[5]

The statistics bring things to light but they don’t tell the whole story. There are many carers who are managing to stay in employment and there are some who talk to their employers about ways they can better manage their work-life balance. However, even if this is the case at your organisation it’s still important to check in and aim for best practice support. Here’s why…

Why is it more important than ever to support carers?

Un-paid carers do a lot for our community, often with little return. Caring impacts on a carers participation in employment and the number of paid work hours they undertake, with many choosing to leave the workforce altogether to meet the responsibilities of their caring roles. This is akin to parents who leave the workforce to look after children. Over the course of a lifetime this has a huge impact on income and puts them at risk of mental health issues and poverty later in life.

It is women who are most at risk. These statistics in the Human Rights Commission Supporting Carers in the Workplace Toolkit highlights why this is the case:

  • Among employed women 15 years and over, 45.8% work part-time compared to 16.5% of employed men
  • The employment rates of female parents are 39% points lower than male parents who had a youngest child under six years.
  • Across all age groups, less than 23% of female primary carers of people with disability, illness or frailty participate are in full-time employment at any point.
“The superannuation system in Australia, which is tied to paid employment, financially disadvantages people who take time out of the workforce for caring responsibilities. Estimates from 2009-2010 suggest that the average superannuation payouts for women are just over half (57%) those of men.” The Human Rights Commission, Supporting Carers in the Workplace Toolkit[6]

Also, carers who take time out of the workforce or reduce their participation often miss out on career development and training opportunities. This has an impact on future opportunities and career progression.  It can be particularly detrimental if their caring responsibility reduces or stops as they find it difficult to re-enter the workforce with out-of-date skills and missed experience.

This doesn’t have to be the case for every carer – especially one that has an employer that supports them during the most challenging periods.

4 ways organisations can support carer employees

“Embrace workers with caring responsibilities as the norm rather than the exception.” [7]

Having good parental leave schemes, flexible work conditions for parents, and provisions for child care are great ways to accommodate some of the needs of parent carers but there is still a way to go for employees caring for people with disability, mental illness, chronic illness, or for older people. Here are four practical steps companies can take to create a comprehensive plan to support carer employees.

1. Advocate and raise awareness about the value of non-paid carers

Carers Week 2014 will be celebrated throughout Australia from 12 –18 October. The week is about recognising and celebrating the awesome contribution unpaid carers make to our communities and national economy.

You can raise your voice and show support by hosting a public Carers Week event. See the Carers Week ‘Careroke’ website for some starter ideas and more details on how to do and publicise this. http://careroke.com.au/get-involved/

2. Run a Carers Week Seminar

Invite Parents@Work to run a Carers Week Seminar or introduce a Carers Program. The year’s Parents@Work Carers Week Seminar offers:

  • Re-balancing the family model
  • Short and long term career planning
  • Dealing with changes in identity and shifts in priority
  • Managing and maintaining work relationships
  • Surviving and enjoying work
  • Building confidence

If you would like to run a seminar for your carers during Carers Week call us now on 02 9967 8377 or email info@parentsatwork.com.au.

3. Have a Carers Strategy
“Identify the need to support staff with caring responsibilities as a business need.”[8]

The Human Rights Commission have a number of recommendations for creating a comprehensive Carers Strategy. See it’s Supporting Carers in the Workplace: Toolkit 2013 for a full explanation of the following points as well as some great examples of organisations with excellent best practice carers strategies already in place.

  1. Conduct an audit of your current workplace flexibility and carer policies and programs for their effectiveness.
  2. Survey staff to assess what carers need and would value.
  3. Analyse the results to understand the needs and investigate further.
  4. Think through the solutions and develop a carer strategy.
  5. Communicate with staff about the carer strategy and the needs of carers in the workplace.
  6. Monitor and evaluate the progress of the carer strategy.

The toolkit also has a great table on page 11 that lists policies and practical mechanisms to help organisations implement a tailored best practice approach.  Some of these include:

  • Allowing for flexible time and leave arrangements.
  • Flexibility on work location.
  • Redesigning jobs to make adjustments to the role and objectives of the carer’s job.
  • Implementing return to work programs (like the Parents@Work Flexibility Program)
  • Providing information and access to services specifically for the needs of carers (like the Parents@Work portal)
  • Provide access to basic facilities to accommodate carers’ needs such as private room for confidential conversations
4. Pave the way, challenge the model

To truly value unpaid caring a great cultural change needs to occur – both in our communities and our workplaces. There’s still a lot of gender role stereotyping and social norms that need to be shifted and this starts with how we talk about and live our intentions for a more equitable divide of caring responsibilities.

“It is important to challenge the model of the ‘ideal worker’ who is perceived to be unencumbered by any caring responsibilities – and start to see how men and women can share the responsibility for unpaid care.”[9]

When employers consider the strong business case for supporting unpaid carers it makes sense to lead the way in this area.  Research has shown that there are gains in efficiency, productivity and diversity.

Increasing women’s participation in the workforce by just 6% could contribute to a $25 billion increase in Australia’s GDP. [10] Grattan Institute
For info on how to implement a Carers Program call us on 02 9967 8377 or info@parentsatwork.com.au or if you’d like more assistance on what your organisation can do for Carers Week, get in touch now.

Useful Resources

Parents@Work

Parents@Work provides Carers Programs that include useful information and tools to support all carers (not just working parents) to create a work-life balance that works in the context of their caring and work responsibilities.

www.parentsatwork.com.au

Carers Australia

Carers Australia is the national peak body representing Australia’s carers, advocating on behalf of Australia’s carers to influence policies and services at a national level.

www.carersaustralia.com.au/home/

Supporting Carers in the Workplace: Toolkit 2013.

This Toolkit is designed to assist managers and staff in the workplace to find constructive and sustainable solutions that support unpaid carers to remain engaged and productive at work.

www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/UnpaidCaringToolkit_2013.pdf

Australian Government website

Provides information and links to other resources specifically set up for carers.

www.australia.gov.au/people/carers 

Working Carers 
Employer Advice: These pages will include information to inform and assist employers to create carer friendly workplaces.

[1] Carers Australia website, viewed 4.10.2014 http://www.carersaustralia.com.au/home/

[2] ABS (2012) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers

[3] Access Economics (2010) The Economic Value of Informal Care in 2010.

[4] Access Economics (2010) The Economic Value of Informal Care in 2010.

[5] ABS (2012) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, viewed 4.1.0.2014 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/D9BD84DBA2528FC9CA257C21000E4FC5?opendocument

[6] The Human Rights Commission, Supporting Carers in the Workplace Toolkit 2013, viewed 4.10.14, http://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/UnpaidCaringToolkit_2013.pdf

[7] The Human Rights Commission, Supporting Carers in the Workplace Toolkit 2013, viewed 4.10.14, http://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/UnpaidCaringToolkit_2013.pdf

[8] The Human Rights Commission, Supporting Carers in the Workplace Toolkit 2013, viewed 4.10.14, http://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/UnpaidCaringToolkit_2013.pdf

[9] The Human Rights Commission, Supporting Carers in the Workplace Toolkit 2013, viewed 4.10.14, http://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/UnpaidCaringToolkit_2013.pdf

[10] Grattan Institute, Game-changers: Economic reform priorities for Australia (2012), 39. Viewed 4.10.14 http://grattan.edu.au/publications/reports/post/game-changerseconomic-reform-priorities-for-australia/

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