Employers need to consider how to support employees who are carers, so they can balance work with caring for dependants. Christine Husbands, managing director of RedArc, offers advice.
When a serious illness strikes or a major accident happens, people can find themselves needing significant long-term care, often from their families.
Stroke, a heart attack, a car accident or progressive disease, such as multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease, can have many effects, including physical and/or mental impairment. Such events are life-changing for the individual, but society often forgets about the impact on the wider family, particularly the main carer – in most cases, the person’s husband or wife.
I think of these carers as the “forgotten community” because all the attention tends to be focused on the person who is ill, while those who find themselves with significant caring responsibilities are often ignored. Many people are catapulted into the role of carer as a result of a loved one’s accident or sudden health incident; while others may find themselves in a caring role over time as their dependants deal with more gradual, progressive conditions. Either way, people find themselves taking on caring responsibilities with no preparation or support.
So it’s not surprising that carers can find themselves stretched to the limit, trying to hold down a job to support the family financially; looking after the children; running a home; and tending to the needs of their dependant.
They may need to tackle the maze of the NHS and social services to access the support their relative needs, which can be time consuming and difficult, particularly during working hours. In some cases, professional carers may be needed in the home, which brings the additional challenge of accommodating another person in their lives.
As a consequence, many people with caring responsibilities experience a wide range of emotions, such as anger, guilt, worry and resentment. They often feel anxious, isolated, helpless and alone. And they are prone to physical exhaustion and illness.
Carers may feel they cannot share their feelings with family, friends or their employer because they know that their loved one cannot help their situation and feel that they need to be strong for them. But it’s very important that they can turn to someone who cares for them from time to time.
Caring will affect us all at some point in our lives. According to Carers UK, 6,000 people will start looking after someone each day. While caring is part of our nature, it is a huge responsibility that can come when least expected and play havoc with our lives.
Support for carers
When in the thick of a dilemma, it can be difficult to see a way out. As this will affect many who are at work, employers often have to deal with this situation, and line managers often feel ill-equipped to help their colleague.
There is a range of support available. Employers can engage services directly or use added-value options provided by a number of insurance or employee assistance programme (EAP) products.
Obviously, a distracted and stressed employee can be a challenge for an employer. They may be less productive, more likely to be absent, and potentially develop physical and mental health issues themselves.
Help is available to give carers practical advice and emotional support, so they can look after their own health and wellbeing, making them better able to deal with all the demands upon them.
Carers can also get assistance with researching information on local services, self-help groups and relevant charities, as well as navigating support within the NHS. Some services even source short-term respite care, help with independent living and, when appropriate, find long-term care facilities for the dependant.
Employers that offer access to such support for their staff find they engender greater loyalty as they are seen as a caring employer. They see fewer absences and benefit from lower employee turnover, as those who have caring responsibilities have the support they need.
Caring is a hugely emotional responsibility, so it is not surprising that help is needed to support people who do this unpaid, and often thankless, task.
Carers really value someone to talk to who is interested in them, to feel that they are not alone and that their feelings are completely normal. Coupled with expert help to navigate the NHS, social services, support groups and charities means that the impact of support for the “forgotten community” is immeasurable.
Christine Husbands is managing director of RedArc, a service that provides personal nurse advisers for people experiencing illness, disability, trauma or bereavement.