Why caring matters to HR

Julia Marsan, HR director, DX Network Services

For Julia Marsan, HR director at business mail delivery company DX Network Services, and the mother of two disabled children, the introduction of vouchers for carers would provide her with the opportunity to take the occasional break from an exhausting routine.

“We could buy a respite night for my daughter to stay overnight in a special centre, or arrange for some extra after-school care,” said the 45-year-old. Her 11-year-old daughter Nicole requires around-the-clock care. She has severe learning difficulties and the mental age of a three-year-old, and attends a special school. Marsan’s son Tom, aged eight, has cerebral palsy.

“Like all HR people, I have to work hard, and dealing with my caring responsibilities is all about logistics and managing my time as best I can,” she said.

At a cost of about £30,000 per year, Marsan employs a full-time special needs nanny, and her husband usually takes care of the hand-overs morning and evening. But when he is away on business or the unforeseen occurs, Marsan has to rely on the support of her employer.

“My daughter started having severe epileptic fits in January, and during one week in July, my son had to go to hospital three times – once for an operation,” she said.

She described the support she received from her boss as “brilliant”, and the ability to work flexibly – sometimes coming into work during the evening or working from home – as “making a huge difference”.

“A lot of people at work know about the challenges I face, and I think they recognise they are working for a caring company that would support them in similar circumstances,” she said.

Julie Hawkins, HR manager, Higher Nature

Before she started caring for her 86-year-old mother-in-law, Julie Hawkins, HR manager at vitamins and food supplements firm Higher Nature, had no idea how relentless a full-time carer’s role could be.

Her mother-in-law moved in after it became clear she was unable to fend for herself. She was doubly incontinent and struggling with alcoholism – at one point drinking six litres of brandy a week. Hawkins found herself struggling to cope.

“I’d be up at seven in the morning helping her to get dressed and making breakfast, back at lunchtime to clean her and make her lunch, and then I’d sit with her in the evening. All this and I had a full-time job to do as well,” she said.

As her mother-in-law’s conduct became increasingly anti-social, Hawkins suffered a growing number of broken nights’ sleep – kept awake by bouts of screaming, shouting and irrational behaviour. “My employer was very co-operative and let me work flexibly, but sometimes I didn’t function at my best and was very emotional at work,” she said.

Now that her mother-in-law is in a specialist home, 49-year-old Hawkins has had time to reflect on the toll an intensive caring role can take. “As a carer, you are trapped 24 hours a day, seven days a week looking after someone. You get very emotional, sometimes feeling guilty, and at other times angry.”

Tax breaks for carers would have helped her family to save up and buy some time away from their responsibilities. “You can hang on if you know there is a block of time coming up where you can live for yourself,” she said. “The government should be doing more in this area – the support you get is derisory.”

Helen, HR adviser, primary care trust in the north-west of England

Over the past two-and-a-half years, Helen, a 57-year-old HR adviser, has had to take on emotionally draining caring responsibilities on more than one occasion.

Her brother, who had been living in Portugal for some time, turned up on her doorstep diagnosed with terminal cancer. Alongside a full-time job, Helen cared for him for 12 months before he died.

“It was a horrendous experience watching someone near to you slowly die in pain,” she said. In fact, it was so distressing, Helen had to take four months off work with stress-related symptoms.

Then last Christmas, her son had a nervous breakdown brought on by the culmination of a marriage split, late shifts at work, and a spate of incidents of vandalism on his house. Helen had no option but to take him in.

Today, he is back at his own house, but Helen – who wished to remain anonymous to protect her son’s identity – must still keep a constant check on him in case he attempts to commit suicide, as he has done before.

“When someone is ill, they’re not the only ones affected – the whole family is touched,” she said.

Helen believes there is a lack of awareness about how tough caring for someone can be. She would eventually like to see carers gain a similar type of concession to the maternity leave that is available to new mothers.

“If you are not a strong person, caring responsibilities can break you,” she said. “Tax-breaks for carers would be a small step in the right direction.”

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