Implementing the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004

Cooperation between authorities - Carer-friendly employment practice

Key research and policy findings

Practice points

A self-assessment tool for employers is available on the Employers for Carers website. Its aim is to assist employers in assessing what they are doing to support carers and identify areas for development.

Research and policy

Approximately 3 million people in the UK combine caring and work (52). The effects of caring on employment can force carers to work beneath their skill levels (29), for fewer hours or even stop working altogether.

Extensive research and policy cited by Arksey (45) has shown that employment can enhance the quality of life for carers in a number of ways. Working carers are likely to have better incomes, pension rights, career prospects and social networks. Employment can be beneficial to a carer's emotional and physical well-being and could reduce social exclusion and improve self-esteem.

The benefits for the employer are clear and are outlined in detail in the national carers' strategy (16). They include lower staff turnover, flexibility from a more diverse labour pool, improved staff motivation and loyalty and better all-round performance.

A study by Yeandle et al for Carers UK examines the way in which three very different employers have supported carers in the workplace. The study found that the culture of the organisation is key to supporting carers - trust is an important aspect of this. The endorsement of top level management is also necessary in larger organisations. The report emphasises the need to develop a general approach to diversity which includes carers, to provide training and support to managers and to develop internal support networks for carers.

The DVD Juggling work and care (53) looks at the 'business case' for employing carers. It explores the way five very different companies support carers and highlights the benefits of this to the employer. Available free from Carers UK, it would be useful for carers' leads when gaining the support of local employers.

Caring will affect almost half of the population by retirement age (54). Therefore, and especially where recruitment is a problem, employers cannot afford to ignore the potential workforce that carers represent.

Organisations will differ in their ability to support carers. Smaller ones, for example, may find flexibility difficult due to the smaller number of other employees to cover. On the other hand, their closeness to their employees may enhance understanding and flexibility (16). There is a need to develop models that will enable smaller-scale employers to support carers (45).

The nature of the work could also have an effect on flexibility. For example, a bank would have less flexibility than a hotel because of rigid opening times. In services with more rigid needs the staff group are often able to work out solutions themselves that create increased flexibility for all. Work placements for carers can be a useful way of engaging employers and showing them that carers are a valuable resource (43).

Even where carer-friendly employment policies are in place, awareness among employees and managers is low. Carers often rely on the goodwill of managers and on their interpretations of policy to grant leave for caring responsibilities (50,51). Training and support needs to be provided for managers. In addition human resources should record and evaluate the ways in which policies are interpreted and used in practice (50).

Statutory authorities are in a position to set standards for supporting carers in the workplace and should encourage contracted agencies and local partners to develop equally supportive policies.

Ideas from practice

Practice examples are self-reported and have not been evaluated.

Employers Pack

Carers UK website offers information and resources to help promote understanding of the Work and Families Act .

A self-assessment tool for employers is available at.