Only a third of employers are supporting working carers

This is according to CIPD/Westfield Health research which finds that almost two-fifths (38%) of employers do not have any policies in place to support working carers, or plans to develop one. The report also finds that just 13% of organisations offer line manager training to support working carers, which is concerning given the key role line managers play in providing flexibility and support to people with caring responsibilities.

shutterstock_319706528The problem is particularly prevalent in the private sector, where just 11% of organisations offer line manager training, 18% have a formal, written policy aimed at supporting working carers, and only one in five (20%) know how many working carers they employ.

Claire McCartney, research adviser – resourcing and talent planning at the CIPD, comments: “Caring is such a broad term, and there are often blurry lines between those who view themselves as carers and those who see themselves as simply doing their duty. Some might not declare themselves as carers at work because they are worried about being treated differently, or they might be concerned that reducing their hours or asking for flexible working could impact negatively on their career progression. As long as the caring agenda remains a hidden issue in the workplace, without clear policies or obvious channels for support, can you blame them?

“The onus is on employers to create and promote policies and initiatives in the workplace that empower working carers, sending employees a clear message that their organisation will support them. Measurement is key to supporting working carers – without it, employers cannot know how many working carers they have and what the most appropriate policies, tools and support might be. Line manager training is also crucial, as they are often the first port of call for employees needing support and they need to be able to understand the context in which working carers are operating, and have the tools and the confidence to help them develop their skills and progress in their careers.”

The survey found that, of those organisations that do support working carers, almost half (45%) think the steps they have taken have made a positive difference to their organisation’s culture. This figure rises to 66% of organisations which have a policy in place geared towards the needs of carers. The five top reasons why organisations support carers at work are: it’s the right thing to do as a good employer (65%); it improves work-life balance (60%); it improves employee morale/engagement (58%); it improves retention (53%); and reduces absenteeism (50%).

When working carers were asked which approach they would prefer if their organisation took steps to support them at work, 62% voted for minimal involvement in their personal lives, in which employees with caring responsibilities are empowered and given permission to respond as they need. Just 18% said they’d prefer a hand-holding response where their organisations was highly engaged in working carers. 11% voted for neither and 10% said they didn’t know.

McCartney continues: “We can see that many employers understand the business case for supporting working carers, and how it can positively impact retention, engagement and reduce absenteeism, all of which will bring big business benefits in the long term. Employers need to see working carers as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, and listening and understanding what they need from their employer is important. Although official policies for working carers will help to legitimise their place in the labour market, they need not be prescriptive and should focus on empowering individuals.”

David Capper, Westfield Health’s executive director – commercial, said: “More than three million workers in the UK are providing informal care to older parents or dependents, and this figure is expected to rise, as many more employees are likely to find themselves in the ‘sandwich generation’ – balancing working commitment with caring for older family members and looking after their own children. Caring not only impacts heavily on employees’ working lives, particularly in terms of health and wellbeing, but can also seriously affect employers through rising levels of absence and falling levels of productivity.

“With so many UK workers now facing these struggles, working carers need to be on every employer’s agenda. It’s clear from this research that many haven’t yet fully recognised the impact of this demographic shift, but they must understand the need to address this issue and put in place mechanisms to support them.”

Katherine Wilson, strategic lead, Employers for Carers, said: “We warmly welcome this new research which shines a fresh light on the increasingly critical issue of recognising and supporting carers in the workplace. With one in nine people in any workplace already caring, and this number set to increase as our population (and workforce) ages, this is a timely addition to the evidence base on supporting carers at work. It also reflects the findings of surveys by our business forum, Employers for Carers, over the years which, again, have repeatedly highlighted the key role of carer aware policies, promotion and practices in the workplace.

“As with the experience of a growing number of our member organisations, we welcome the findings today from employers who are addressing the caring agenda and seeing the positive effects on their workplace culture, retention rates and productivity.  Recognising and supporting carers in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it also makes clear business sense.”

The CIPD/Westfield Health survey makes recommendations for…

Working carers:

  • Help your organisation to understand your individual needs and how to help you – rather than waiting for official policies to be put in place, have open conversations with an HR professional or your line manager, about the changes that will help you the most
  • Assess your working situation on a regular basis, and communicate any arising difficulties
  • Help to raise awareness of working carers and act as a role model for others


  • Create and promote a broad working carers’ policy covering the organisational support available to carers, to help create and nurture a culture that is inclusive and supportive of working carers
  • Develop and implement the right tools and support to empower working carers, including:
    • Active promotion of a flexible working policy that is responsive to the needs of people with caring responsibilities
    • Attractive working situations that take into account people’s caring responsibilities and enable them to stay in work
    • Guidance and/or a section of the intranet where working carers can be signposted to external sources of support, including financial information.
    • Train line managers so that they understand the demands that working carers experience and are aware of the support available to them

UK Government:

  • Act as an enabler, encouraging wider debate and more actively promoting the business case among employers so that they act more urgently
  • Develop a stronger evidence base and act as a repository of good practice case studies, showcasing how employers can accommodate working carers
  • Provide more concerted action, in collaboration with business and employee bodies, to encourage more active promotion of flexible working by employers to their workforce