This week (10-16 June) is Carers Week – an annual campaign to raise awareness of caring, highlight the challenges unpaid carers face, and recognise the contribution they make to families and communities throughout the UK.

“The challenge of recognising carers within the workplace is escalating,” says Stephen Simpson, Content Manager, Employment Law and Compliance, at Brightmine. “Many employers are unaware of the extent of caregiving responsibilities among their staff,” he adds.

“According to recent census data, 2.5 million unpaid carers are currently employed in England and Wales, and the number of employees handling caregiving roles alongside their jobs has grown since 2011.

“Caring is often an overlooked issue at work due to the unpredictable nature of caregiving and the difficulty people have in discussing the topic. Many employees who support ageing parents or care for disabled children don’t identify as carers, seeing their roles through a personal lens. Employers that recognise this can offer better support and in turn retain talent that might otherwise look elsewhere.

“The new statutory right to carer’s leave, effective from April, is a positive step, but the real impact comes from the daily support and a workplace culture that genuinely supports carers. Studies show that when employers implement carer-friendly policies, clearly defining who these policies are for, employees are more likely to come forward and seek the support they need. According to recent Brightmine research, around a quarter of organisations currently offer paid carer’s leave, a benefit likely welcomed by those who need it.”

Brightmine shares its tips for identifying and supporting carers in the workplace

  • Cultivate an inclusive work environment where employees feel safe discussing sensitive topics. This will make identifying carers easier and employees feel more comfortable discussing the support they need.
  • Have in place a clear process for employees to be able to take carer’s leave, for example via a request form on their HR systems or the intranet. Employers can ask employees taking carer’s leave to sign a declaration of entitlement to take the leave but they must not ask for evidence to support the request, such as medical information about the dependant’s health. This information can be set out in a carer’s leave policy, which could also include details of other types of leave available to the carer, such as time off for dependants and compassionate leave.
  • Train line managers to create a culture of communication and trust within their teams, making it easier for productive and supportive two-way conversations.
  • Employee surveys, such as an annual employee engagement survey, is an effective way to gauge employee sentiment around the subject of caring. When taking this approach, offer anonymous responses to ensure confidentiality, use inclusive language such as “supporting” or “looking after” a dependant to engage those who may not identify as carers, and clearly explain the survey’s purpose, such as identifying support needs.
  • How employees are categorised as carers, depending on the definition in the carers policy, is an important consideration. Classification systems should help line managers recognise and address support needs while remaining flexible to accommodate fluctuating caring responsibilities.
  • Introduce a “carer’s passport”, scheme for employees with caring responsibilities. The passport documents carers’ needs and identifies solutions, remaining with the carer if their role or line manager changes. This flexible scheme allows updates to support needs and ensures solutions are communicated to future managers.