Hats off to insurance company Aviva, who recently announced new measures to support employees who are balancing work with caring responsibilities. The organisation is offering a generous package of paid leave for carers, as well as up to four week’s unpaid time off per holiday year. Following a successful pilot in its Bristol office, the business is also adopting a more flexible approach, allowing employees to request permanent adjustments to their working patterns, for example, if they need more help to juggle their dual responsibilities.

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The new policy is part of a wider corporate well-being initiative, but Aviva has clearly also woken up and smelt the coffee when it comes to the issue of carers. Figures from the Carers Trust show that, thanks to a rapidly ageing population, three in five people in the UK will end up caring for someone at some point in their lives. Just over four million carers today are of working age – with the total number of carers in the UK predicted to increase to nine million by 2030.

That translates to a significant proportion of any organisation’s workforce – both current and future – and an issue that companies who want to hang on to their best people ignore at their peril.

Here are three reasons why organisations need to make sure they are taking care of their carers:

1. ‘Hidden’ issues make it difficult to plan

Many employees fail to disclose the full extent of their caring responsibilities. They are concerned that if they constantly have to ask for time off to deal with hospital appointments or care crises, they will be seen as unreliable. Surveys have also suggested that often carers will call in sick rather than ask for time off for fear it will be refused. This understandable subterfuge doesn’t help the business and it’s much better all round to get everything out into the open. If employees feel they can have an honest conversation with their manager, without negative consequences, they will be less stressed, everyone will know what is happening and the manager will be able to plan to cover their absence if needed.

2. It allows the business to retain talented staff

Often, the strain of juggling care with work just becomes too much to bear and people quit their jobs. They may opt for the flexibility self-employment can offer them, or perhaps take a step back into a less demanding role. In a time of skills shortages, however, businesses cannot afford to lose their best people. HR may have a difficult job convincing hard-pressed managers of the need to be flexible and accommodating, but often a few simple adjustments – such as occasional home-working or allowing people to make up lost time rather than take leave – can be enough to make it feasible for someone to stay.

3. It boosts loyalty and engagement

Carers who feel supported by their employees are usually extremely grateful. If they can see the business is doing its best to help them manage their complicated lives, they will repay the effort by being more loyal, engaged employees who are prepared to go the extra mile when needed. It can be challenging to provide the flexibility that carers need to deal with seemingly endless appointments and unexpected crises, especially in a smaller business where there may not be other staff around to pick up the slack, or indeed the budget to pay for temporary cover. But HR needs to encourage managers to take a longer term, wider view. Better to have a highly productive member of staff who is fully committed to the job, rather than see people the business has invested heavily in, and who may have specialist skills, walking out of the door.

Do you know how many employees in your organisation have caring responsibilities? Have you any programs in place designed to help them?

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.