Why caring for your carers is critical
As Australia’s population ages, an increasing number of people will find themselves – often quite suddenly – caring for a family member or friend. For many, taking care of an ageing parent, a terminally ill partner or child with disability is the most important thing they will ever do. But it can come at a cost.
1. Around one in eight Australians have an unpaid caring role1
Around one in eight Australians are ‘informal carers’, taking care of an ageing parent, a terminally ill partner or child with disability. Combining these responsibilities with paid work can be challenging, and they may choose to move into a part-time role. This can be career-limiting, with a knock-on financial impact – now, and on their super.
"Some caring can be 24/7, but other needs may be more intermittent and people can balance that informal or ad hoc need with their paid work," explains Elena Katrakis, CEO Carers NSW. "To do that, they may need time away from the office for medical appointments, or to help ageing parents with their shopping."
Carers NSW works with employers to recognise the benefits of keeping their carers in the workplace.
"This is not just an issue for carers, but for their employers as well. We know not all roles are flexible, but where there is capacity to change we can help them manage that," she says.
Some carers will be forced to remove themselves from the workforce completely – just over half (56%) of primary carers aged 15 to 64 participate in the workforce, compared with 80% of non-carers.1 For primary carers in this situation, the caring role can also be stressful and isolating.
2. One in 10 carers are aged under 251
There are just under 2.7million unpaid family and friend carers across Australia. And while more than two-thirds are female, and their average age is 55, you might be surprised by who else in your business plays that role.
"Around one in 10 carers are aged under 25 – that’s more than a quarter of a million Australians," says Katrakis. "They may need to support a sick parent or partner, or a friend with a disability or chronic condition."
She says Carers NSW’s Lunch and Learn sessions in the workplace are often when the penny drops – and not just for managers. "Often carers don’t recognise the situation they’re in until it’s described to them. Once they do, we can then work with them to make their journey easier – things like health and wellbeing support, access to counselling or practical guidance on the NDIS."
As an employer you also play an important role in helping them understand their role as carers – and the support that is available.
3. Primary carers earn 42% less than non-caring colleagues1
It’s important work – and one that could cost our economy over $1billion a week in replacement value. But it’s certainly not financially rewarding. Primary carers aged 15-64 earn, in median income, 42% less per week than their non-caring colleagues – typically because they need to move into part-time or less challenging roles.
There are other long-term career consequences. "For example, if a male manager takes time off to care for his terminally ill wife because she has breast cancer, he’s not available for career progression. Or he may take a more flexible position during that time – and when he returns, the opportunities are no longer there," says Katrakis.
Full-time caring can also lead to social isolation. "We know from health and wellbeing studies that carers have the lowest level of wellbeing of any group," says Katrakis.2 According to Deakin University’s Australian Centre on Quality of Life, "high levels of stress and low levels of subjective wellbeing are experienced as a result of long-term and often hidden caregiving."3
Caring can sometimes cost friendships and other family relationships, and it can also lead to high levels of depression and stress.
"Over time, caring doesn’t get any easier – and the level of wellbeing decreases as the hours of caring increases," she says.
4. By 2027, more than a fifth of Australia’s population will be aged over 651
Australia’s need for unpaid or informal care will only continue to rise. For employers seeking diverse talent, having policies and clear support structures for carers in place will be a necessity.
"We know that if carers feel supported in their workplace, they perform better," says Katrakis. "It also creates a positive impact across the organisation, as you are seen as being supportive of staff and encouraging diversity."
Supporting a diverse and inclusive workforce is also vital if you want to improve business performance. This means being proactive to remove any additional stress at work through understanding at a team level, and practical measures at a business level – such as genuine flexible work options.
"It’s not enough to tick a box and put your policy on the shelf, you need to implement it," Katrakis emphasises. "We know from our own survey of carers that there are policies in place – but people believe management isn’t supportive of it."
How to support your carers at work – and retain their skills and talent
- Identify who your carers are: the National Network of Carers Associations can help you run surveys and information sessions, to understand who may need support and what services are available to them.
- Appoint a champion: empathetic leadership is often driven by someone at a senior level who has been through the experience themselves, and can provide sensitive support.
- Normalise the conversation: in an open, supportive workplace with positive working relationships, it shouldn’t be hard for carers to discuss their needs with their manager.
- Avoid ignoring the issue: don’t make assumptions if people suddenly need to take time off. Take the time to understand what the underlying issues may be.
In 2018 Carers NSW will be working to develop a new employer network, bringing together employers to discuss best practice. If you’d like to stay informed, please contact Carers NSW.
Interested in reading more? Try Take Care: How to be a Great Employer for Working Carers, Professor David Grayson, Director of the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management.