Why it’s important for businesses to talk about caring
Group Head, Talent Acquisition at Aviva. I’m Jonny Briggs and I’m the global lead for diversity and inclusion at Aviva.
I was delighted to read Jon Addison’s post last month about the importance of flexible working for carers. It’s an area I come across regularly in my role and it’s something I feel businesses should be talking about more.
In the UK, it’s estimated that one in eight adults are carers*. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have caring duties currently. But as a working parent, I know how hard it can be juggling everything, so I have nothing but admiration for people with caring responsibilities.
We introduced a carer policy at Aviva in October 2017. It gives carers access to paid leave - up to 35 hours per year for planned events, and a further 35 hours for emergencies – plus the same entitlement to unpaid leave as that of parents with dependent children.
We realised that someone with caring responsibilities is just as likely to need help and flexibility as parents with young children – so why wouldn’t we support them in the same way? Here are some of the things we discovered through our policy:
It’s okay to be a carer
In addition to the policy itself, one of the main benefits we found was that people felt they could be open about their situations. Crucially they knew that it was okay to be a carer! And people understood that being a carer didn’t mean they weren’t committed to their job.
We’ve done research in this area and we’ve found a lot of people hide their caring responsibilities, while many don’t even identify as carers. Caring often involves looking after family members, so people take on the role without thinking - because they want to look after loved ones and because they see it as something that they should do. But caring can take its toll, emotionally, physically and even financially, so it’s important that employees talk to their employers to find out what support is available.
It’s not just older people – and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach
When the word ‘caring’ is uttered, people will often automatically think about older relatives, but caring requirements are broad and varied. There are lots of workers who have responsibilities for children with additional needs – for example, children on the autistic spectrum – and there are people supporting individuals with mental health conditions.
There are also those who have carer responsibilities that ebb and flow. A condition may be manageable for months, but it may suddenly flare up and that person needs extra attention. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to caring, so businesses need to be ready to adapt accordingly.
Many people are juggling responsibilities at both ends of the age spectrum
Millions of people are dealing with the dual challenges of looking after dependent children and older relatives – the so-called ‘sandwich generation’. This can be particularly demanding as people feel pulled in all manner of directions. As people have children later in life, and as people live longer, there’s every chance there will be more people in this situation in the future.
We’ve carried out research into the sandwich generation and we found that a third of people (33%) said their caring duties have negatively affected their mental health, and a similar number (31%) said they had impacted their quality of life. So it’s vital employers think about how they support their workers if they want to retain talented people.
Supporting carers is good for business
At Aviva, we’re absolutely committed to having a diverse, inclusive workforce, and this definitely includes people with caring responsibilities.
There’s a wealth of evidence that shows that diverse businesses are more successful, so while it’s culturally important, there could well be an impact on the bottom line too. And we know that our customers come from all walks of life too, so it’s important that our people reflect this, so they can better understand their needs.
We want people to feel they can bring their whole selves to work, not spending time or energy hiding who they are. Hiding helps no-one, so we want people to feel they can be open and honest if they are a carer.
And finally… it’s time to talk about caring
Changing demographics and an ageing population mean that three in five people in the UK will end up caring for someone at some point in their lives. So caring is not something we can get away from - and nor should it be.
Business are waking up to the benefits of having a diverse, inclusive workforce, so carers absolutely need to be considered within this. It’s time that we talked more about caring.