https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2016/02/09/valuing-carers-in-the-workplace/

Valuing carers in the workplace

Kevin Oliver (head shot)
Kevin Oliver

I can guarantee you work with people who have caring responsibilities. Let me look at what that means to them, the business they’re in, and you as a co-worker.

A carer has to be, by nature, highly organised. In many cases, they have to do everything at least twice – once for themselves, and again for the person (or persons) they look after. And then they have to go to work and do the thing that they are paid for. And when they go home, instead of the relaxing time sat in front of the telly and unwinding that some of us take for granted, they have to do the unpaid work of the carer.

Often this involves having little or no time to themselves, making many personal sacrifices and only stopping when either everything has been done, or it’s time to fall into bed, physically exhausted. Even then, they sleep with one ear open, as it were, waiting for any signs of distress from the person they care for. Then it’s up very early to start all over again.

Highly motivated

It’s a difficult life, and not one anybody would choose to live. But carers live life to the full as much as they can. And while it can sometimes be frustrating, it’s often rewarding.

Please value working carers. By definition, they need to be focused, are highly motivated, well organised and are more than capable of multitasking.

Doesn’t that make them exactly the type of person any organisation looks for? Yet far too many managers see them as people who are “difficult to manage”, and “have their minds on other things”.

Man and woman seated behind red-clothed Carers UK stand at exhibition, flanked by display stands.
The Carers UK stand at Civil Service Live 2015

There is a definite difference between attitudes towards adult care and childcare. I cannot understand why this is. We need to see adult care issues in the same light as childcare ones. While there seems to be a number of schemes to deal with childcare issues, the same can’t be said for adult care.

This imbalance needs sorting, and sooner rather than later. A Carer’s Passport from The Charity for Civil Servants - find them on www.foryoubyyou.org.uk - can help. It’s a document laying out what being a carer means to you, and it is attached to your HR documents, so that if you transfer to another department, you don’t have to explain your needs as a carer.

Let’s not forget that ‘reasonable adjustments’ don’t have to apply to persons with protected characteristics. With a bit of application and imagination, the carer in the workplace can be the model of efficiency and productivity. Don’t think in terms of the cost of doing this; think instead in terms of the cost of not doing it. It does the business no favours to have a demotivated workforce. It’s not that carers want special treatment, they just want fairness (where have I heard that before – clue: see my previous blog).

Understanding

I’m both a primary and secondary carer, and I know from experience that the understanding of your line manager and your co-workers means everything. Put simply, just being valued is a great help. But, as a manager, don’t try to be over-protective. Nothing is more annoying than being told that you weren’t considered for a course or other work because you, “have enough on your plate”.

And think about carers when office social events happen. If they can’t go out with the crowd after work, it’s probably not due to any reluctance to socialise, but because of their caring responsibilities. Consider holding lunchtime events occasionally, to promote inclusion. It’s the old chestnut ‘unconscious bias’ rearing its ugly head again. The best way is to ask people what they need, and what’s best for them.

So, to wrap up, value people - whatever their needs are. Carers are a dedicated bunch, so make the most of them. And encourage them to make the most of themselves.

20 comments

  1. Comment by Lisa posted on

    I completely agree with Kevin's description of the primary carer's lot in life. I would also add that some job adverts have a tendency to rule out them as applicants through the standard phrase 'travelling required'. Even when the work described doesn't show that it is necessary.

    • Replies to Lisa>

      Comment by Laura posted on

      I am a carer and completely understand what Kevin is saying and what he goes through. Having understanding colleagues and managers mean a lot and I wish more considered the impact caring has on you as an individual and civil servant. Like Lisa travelling is difficult and goign on training courses is just as difficult when they are overnight and 200 miles away. It is hard to not be able to take up these opportunities and easy to feel as though you are not contributing enough or as well as non-carers. Articles like this help raise awareness and give carers a moral boost that they are not alone.

  2. Comment by Wilson Paterson posted on

    Great to see a positive view of what carers can bring to the workplace. I particularly like the idea that carers bring well honed skills to the party. I would add greater resilience as well.
    We need to encourage our managers to see our multiple focus as what we all need to do in a complex, fast-changing world, not as our minds being on something else.

  3. Comment by James posted on

    As a carer myself I recognised the second and third paragraphs all too well and therefore knew before he said it that Kevin was also a carer. These words should be read by everyone - from your colleagues to councils to government officers to school employees. If it gives them even just a slightest hint of what we face on a day-to-day basis then perhaps things in the UK could change. As for my department, I have had very different attutudes to my challenges from line managers. Most have been excellent but not all. And so this is an individual issue rather than an inherently departmental one. Thanks Kevin.

  4. Comment by Julie posted on

    This is a great article & sums up what a carers life is like. All Managers should take note of the "enough on your plate" comment

  5. Comment by Kevin Oliver posted on

    Many thanks for all of the comments. I guess I'm fulfilling my own phrase " Be the voice of the voiceless". When I sat down to write the blog, I decided to do it from the heart, as I've found through my years of experience that this is the best way. Don't forget the "Carers Passports". They make a real difference. Use the support groups where they exist, and where they don't, start one. Keep talking, keep being positive, and you can make a difference.

  6. Comment by H posted on

    Well done Kevin. It is a good point about the carers passport and I would recommend it. At the moment I have an understanding manager and the passport is not needed (though I still have one). However the manager can change and we all know there are some who are poor (yes I have had them) and may not believe or understand your situation and it is then the carers passport becomes more relevant.

  7. Comment by Betty Bedford posted on

    Really appreciate articles like this, which along with the comments, gave me a real boost on a cold and frosty Monday morning. I've been very lucky with the support I've had, and still have, from (most of) my managers and colleagues over the last 14 years but I realise not everyone is as fortunate.

  8. Comment by Henry posted on

    Thank you for mentioning reasonable adjustments for carers. I'm working to raise awareness of being able to use a reasonable adjustment passport (and have the conversations that go with it) when you're a carer as much as someone who is disabled or such like. I will be passing this post onto those I know who are carers and their managers. Thank you

  9. Comment by Julie Holden posted on

    You have completely summed up our role, it is often a 'thank less' one!. Don't lose hope, I am a primary carer and have recently been promoted to temporary HO. There are opportunities out there for us.
    I have just recently completed a Carer's passport too, and would recommend everyone with a caring role do the same.
    Your words were inspired Kevin.

  10. Comment by Lyn Hyde posted on

    Thank you Kevin for your article. Can I add my endorsement of the Carers passport - I have found it extremely useful when moving to new management/roles. Everyone's experience as a carer is different but what goes a long way to support us all whatever our circumstances is flexibility and fairness. I may joke that some mornings I feel like I've run a marathon before I've got to work - but I enjoy my job and my role as a carer.

  11. Comment by Maria Blackwood posted on

    Kevin,
    You're so spot on when it comes to explaining what it's like to have to care for an adult. I look after an elderly parent, plus I hold two jobs- - full time and part time. The only day I don't go to work is Saturday and that's the day I try and catch up at home. I know where you are coming from. Thank youy

  12. Comment by Khalid A D posted on

    I really appreciate Kevin excellent article regarding carer life as it is really hard to look after for someone and indeed they should be supported at work place.Thanks to Kevin.

  13. Comment by Vivien posted on

    Thanks for the article, I have my Granddaughter live with me permanently, plus I still care for her Mother who has BPD, and has taken numerous overdoses, plus all the other things I deal with on a daily basis, and yet still on a waiting list for a mental health worker !! So I take on that role as well ! She doesn't live with me but relies on me for all her needs. I am going to look into this carer's passport ! I have never heard of it.

  14. Comment by Suzanne Lawrence posted on

    Hi Kevin, thank you for such an insightful and honest post. I'm not a carer but your post really resonates with me having supported my parents when they were caring for my grandmother and trying to maintain their jobs. I now work at the Department for Health and supporting carers is an area that I am involved in. Could I contact you regarding this and potentially sharing your blog post more widely? My email is suzanne.lawrence@dh.gsi.gov.uk if you would like to get in touch.

  15. Comment by Jayne Barber posted on

    Thank you Kevin. I have just applied for my Carers Passport.

  16. Comment by Julie posted on

    Thank you Kevin for summing up mine and I suspect an awful lot of other peoples lives in such a concise way. No-one who is a carer wants sympathy or any special attention for what they do, they just want an understanding of the frustrating and at times difficult circumstances they find themselves in. I also completely agree with Lisa's comments regarding career opportunities with 'travelling required'. There have been many opportunities I have been unable to go for because of travelling and overnight stays. In this brave new digital world surely we can use the many tools available to cut this to a minimum in the hope of a more inclusive workforce?

  17. Comment by Joy Brimecome posted on

    Thank you Kevin. You hit the nail on the head saying about having to do everything twice, I had never looked at it like that before, it was just something I got on and did. Will be applying for my Carer's Passport too.

  18. Comment by Joy Jaipersad posted on

    i am in a similar case as Vivien - i have not heard of a carer's passport and do not know how to apply for it.
    i care for my husband, sister,and I am disabled as well. Any help will be appreciated

  19. Comment by Julie Jessup posted on

    I work full time for the MOD and I am a carer for my daughter who is 34 and lives with me and my husband. I also support my son who lives away from home, he has aspergers. Recently my husband was seriously ill and I am now caring for him. On top of that I also have disabilities.
    I have recently had a month off as I became very stressed. My line manager has told me today there is no way she can support my sickness and I am now faced with a written warning about this period of sick. Is this correct?