We all know that people don’t just leave their personal lives at the door when they come into work, and the pandemic has thrown that into sharper focus than ever before. With many employees juggling work with childcare responsibilities or caring for elderly relatives – those who may not have previously even considered themselves as carers are likely viewing their responsibilities in a whole new light.
And the situation has impacted on those being cared for too - with many elderly or vulnerable people who have been shielding feeling cut off and alone. On a recent CBI webinar, Stevie Goulding from Young Minds also highlighted results from their surveys which paint a bleak picture of young peoples’ mental health:
- 83% of young people agreed COVID-19 has made their mental health worse
- A further 32% said it had made their mental health ‘much worse’
- 67% of parents and carers were concerned about the long-term impact on young people’s mental health
- 88% of teachers felt a lack of structure in children’s lives will have a huge impact on young people’s mental health.
All these things add up and can impact employees’ happiness, wellbeing and focus at work. What are the practical things businesses can do to continue to support their working carers?
Identify employees with caring responsibilities
It sounds like a simple step – but it’s not as straightforward as you think! Alongside parents, there will be those who are caring for frail or elderly relatives, who may not see themselves as family carers. According to charity Caring Together, it normally takes two years for people to recognise themselves as being a carer. In order to help identify those with caring responsibilities, firms will need to raise awareness of the definition to help people identify. Those who are regularly cooking, cleaning, shopping, transporting or assisting with paperwork could be juggling two households’ worth of life admin; awareness of these situations enables employers to offer the flexibility needed to strike the balance between home and work.
Foster a culture that welcomes working families
It’s important for firms to embrace the situation as the new normal – we’ve spoken to so many businesses who have supported home working, introduced flexible hours, reduced workloads, run company socials where the whole family is invited, and ensured their staff know it’s OK to duck out of meetings or even bring your kids along – because we’re all in the same boat. Actions like this are incredibly important, because it helps to foster a culture where working families – be they parents or carers – know they will not be judged for requesting the flexibility they need to get their balance right.
In fact, supporting a culture that enables flexible working is just as important as having the right policies in place. For example, if employees have non-working days or reduced hours, or even staggered start and finish times, the organisation culturally has to adapt to ensure that working patterns / deadlines accommodate that change; otherwise, employees could be inadvertently penalised for working flexibly.
Put proactive measures in place around childcare
For businesses who have been surveying staff, top concerns flagged around the return to work have included childcare and putting their own families at risk. Here are some of the actions other firms have taken to support staff around childcare:
- One law firm has updated its internet hub to include guidance on childcare support
- A measure introduced by many firms is to encourage flexible working/changes to hours for those with caring responsibilities where possible
- One manufacturing firm is also matching holidays if people have had to use their leave for childcare
- Lots of businesses are encouraging staff to take leave, hopefully helping to restore some balance; lots of people were reluctant to take leave at start of crisis, so employers are worried about burnout as people juggle multiple responsibilities and increased workloads in some instances.
Have open discussions about mental health
Open forums where parents and carers can discuss the mental health impact of lockdown – both on them but also on their dependents – is another action businesses of any size can take to support their working families. Using employee networks is a great way to support this, as having employee-led discussions can encourage more people to open up and discuss their challenges. These discussions provide important spaces for colleagues to understand that they’re not alone, and to share their own coping tips and advice with colleagues. It can also be a great way for your business to get honest insights into the challenge your employees are facing. Here are some ideas of ways you can start conversations about mental health:
- Ask employees who feel comfortable to do so, to share their mental health experiences via staff newsletters or forums
- Arrange virtual or hybrid coffee mornings, where people can come together to talk about a specific topic – for example, balancing work and childcare
- Encourage teams to create mental health action plans together
- Conduct a mental health survey and share the results – starting a discussion on what you do well and sourcing employees’ ideas on how to overcome challenges
- Lead from the top – with senior executives sharing their own experiences or commitments to mental health, to set the tone and build a culture of openness.
Actively communicate places where working families can access support
There are so many sources of information and support out there for working families – and having somewhere that signposts the different services available is a great place to start.
Dedicated to supporting single parents,, Gingerbread’s COVID-19 resources include a helpline, FAQs, information for single parents as well as forums and groups.
Employers can subscribe to this service to help their working parents balance careers and family life, with support ranging from useful content covering every stage of parenthood, through to legislative updates and small group coaching sessions.
Resources to help parents support their children’s mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, from the UK's leading charity fighting for children and young people's mental health.
Official government guidance or parents and carers on supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic
Access wellbeing activity ideas for families in this list of recommended resources to help entertain, inspire and start conversations with children to improve their wellbeing during the pandemic.
Advice and information for parents of children with disabilities.
Guidance on supporting elderly relatives at risk from coronavirus – with practical advice ranging from how to make your home safe for visits, to planning medication, meal delivery, wellbeing and more.
Use this helpful checklist to help employees understand if they are a carer.