There is currently a loud call in Australian workplaces to better support people who are caring for others, especially those that are balancing caring responsibilities with paid work commitments. The call is coming from all angles – the carers themselves, advocacy agencies (like Carers Australia), the Government, the media and of course those organisations that are committed to supporting their employees with a working environment that helps them feel valued and supported to do the best job they can.
Talking about more support and creating policies are important but when it comes down to it a clear strategy and absolute commitment is what’s going to bring real change and action true support.
Here is a great article from care specialists NEEOPA highlighting three strategies employers can use to support working carers.
Three Strategies to Support Employees Who Are Carers
NEEOPA members have an important role to play in creating a ‘Care Aware’ workplace culture to secure a far better deal for millions of people trying to balance paid work with unpaid caring responsibilities.
That was the message from Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan (AO) at our February forum held with the support of venue sponsor Deloitte in Sydney.
Ms Ryan told us that the failure of most workplaces to fully support carers was of “massive dimensions” and that there were resulting “negative consequences for business and the economy”. Australia’s aging population will only increase the carer cohort and deepen the need for employers to do much more in this space.
Quoting the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Ms Ryan said 5.5 million people across our nation aged between 15 and 64 have unpaid caring responsibilities.
She said greater support for carers from both government and employers would benefit all Australians and urged that the time for action was now.
“A longer working life assists the individual to live decently; it assists government to manage welfare and health payments sustainably; and it assists business to retain a pool of skilled and experienced workers and to find ever growing markets for its products and services,” Ms Ryan said.
She added, “These benefits only materialise if carers are supported as workers.”
Ms Ryan says one issue that needs government attention is the fact the carers’ payment doesn’t currently include superannuation. She said the government “could and should” include the Superannuation Guarantee Levy with the Carers Payment.
“[Also] under current law, the income from the sale of a carer’s assets can reduce or completely cut their carers’ payments. Considering that many carers either choose to, or are forced by financial circumstances, to sell their house or other assets, this seems a harsh ruling and should be reviewed.”
On the employer front, a range of laws exist to protect those with caring responsibilities but in reality many people are experiencing discrimination and hardship at work.
Ms Ryan told members that the current Australian Human Rights Commission ‘Willing to Work’: National Inquiry into Employment Discrimination has heard from more than 1,000 people during consultations from big cities to country towns.
Common challenges include:
- Lack of access part time work or flexible work options
- Flexible work arrangements not making provision for extra leave when medical emergencies arise
- Carers having to take jobs at a lower level to stay in paid work
- Some carers being forced out of work due to a lack of support from employers
Strategies employers must focus on
Ms Ryan urged NEEOPA members to look at best practice examples here and overseas to develop strategies in three key areas:
- Flexibility through the lens of a caregiver
- Workplace culture
- Job redesign and training
In addition to the typical practice of offering part time work, employers should also look at options for the carer to work from home or remotely.
A Public Service Commission (PSC) survey of carers in NSW found 97% believed more flexible working arrangements would help older workers, workers with disability and carers to remain or enter in the workforce.
The survey, which formed part of the PSC’s submission to Willing to Work, also found 28% of respondents had applied for more flexible working arrangements, and 25% were aware of an older worker, worker with disability or carer who had been forced out of a job because they couldn’t access flexible work arrangements.
A caring and supportive culture means both tailoring initiatives to individual needs as well as conveying broad support for carers from the top down.
Ms Ryan advises that initiatives also need to be promoted via good communication and visible support from managers.
For example, a Transport for NSW (formerly RailCorp) case study illustrates hosting an annual forum for employees with carer responsibilities featuring expert speakers from organisations such as Carers NSW, Alzheimer’s Australia and Working Carers Gateway.
In France, pharmaceutical company Novartis provides employees with a maximum of €900 (approximately Aus$1,400) in material and financial support for care costs. While in the US, Johnson and Johnson offers free services to employees such as help with planning and coordinating care services and a fixed number of respite care hours a year.
A university in New Zealand created a portal to provide resources and initiatives for employees with carer and family responsibilities while a UK–based global telecommunications company developed a range of resources to support carers, including a ‘Carer Passport’ that describes the nature of the caring responsibilities and adjustments the individual might need to make.
Job redesign and training for carers
Ms Ryan says organisations should be willing to consider job redesign to retain and support employees with caring responsibilities.
She also urged members to improve pathways for re-entry into paid work at the conclusion of a carer role. This should include upskilling support for those returning to work.
“When a worker attempts to re-enter the workforce they may find they are out of touch with recent developments in the workforce and lack confidence,” Ms Ryan said.
“Employers can provide information and referral services as well as offer assistance for retraining.
A good example was a global finance firm that provides carers returning to work in the US with a 10-week training program to sharpen their skills and even help them transition to a new area of expertise.
Another example was an accounting firm in the US that enables employees on unpaid carer’s leave to stay connected with colleagues for up to five years. The firm also provides returning carers with a career coach and access to some training and events.
Seek guidance from the frontline
NEEOPA members can tap into the depth of experience within Carers NSW who offer a free carers’ hotline in addition to expert advice and workshops to raise awareness within organisations. (Carer Line: 1800 242 636)
“Increased options for flexibility, realistic work hours, and support for retraining would better accommodate combining care and work responsibility,’ Ms Ryan said.
“A carer strategy will involve a flexible approach where each individual’s needs are met and diversity of all kinds is recognised.”
“Carers Australia have direct experience [with what employee carers experience and need]… and may be able to help employers develop a strategy in relation to people with caring responsibilities,” Ms Ryan said.
As suggested in this article Parents@Work support Carers with career coaching and courses to help them manage their work and caring responsibilities. The Care & Wellbeing for You and Your Family is one course we offer as part of our Membership package that gives carers valuable insight into the services and tools they can utilise to make their work-life balance a reality.