Employers need to recognise the challenges of working carers

Employers need to do more to support carers in the workplace, argues caretech CEO Vivek Patni.

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In late October more than 30 of the UK’s largest companies signed up to the Mental Health at Work Commitment, an agreement that means they will actively prioritise mental health in the workplace. The signatories include the likes of John Lewis and Barclays, amounting to a significant statement of intent from the private sector.

This news comes amid a major surge in mental health awareness, thanks to intensive campaigning from charities like Mind and from individual activists on social media, such as author Matt Haig.

Mental health days, gym passes, and even free counselling sessions have been integrated into the HR strategies of many large companies.

Conversations in HR circles and wider society concerning other problematic workplace trends – such as sexism and presenteeism – are in full swing. Yet, despite these positive developments taking place, another segment of the workforce is in danger of slipping through the cracks: informal carers – employees who provide some form of unpaid care to a friend or family member.

Falling through the cracks

Caring for a loved one may be a rewarding experience for some people, but for many it is also a tiring burden. A recent survey of more than 2,000 employees commissioned by WeMa revealed almost a fifth (18%) of people provide informal care to a loved one.

This is problematic because the majority (50%) of those surveyed said that their role as a carer hampers their working life, likely leading to greater mental stress and lower productivity. What’s more, 88% of informal carers receive no formal support from their employers.

As a result of the conflict between carers’ responsibilities and the dearth of necessary provisions for them, 49% have had to use sick days as an excuse to get off work and provide care for someone. The first issue here is, of course, the stress and burden that the current state of affairs causes working carers. But there is also a secondary complication: the diminished productivity, particularly in larger firms, caused by the pressures on their staff.

In the UK, mental health problems in the workplace cost the economy approximately 91 million workdays, and £70 billion, annually. Whilst the narrative in HR has come to reflect this productivity drain, it clearly doesn’t yet fully reflect the struggle of working carers.

What can be done to help working carers?

Offering working carers greater support is clearly a win-win situation as making their lives easier and happier increases workplace productivity. The question that subsequently arises is: what specifically do companies need to do?

There are three main tasks that working carers require assistance with. Firstly, determining the type and frequency of care that their loved one needs. Secondly, the sourcing of that professional assistance from a local, reputable source. And finally, the process of paying and management of the care throughout its duration.

I understand these challenges from experience; my family and I established WeMa after an elderly relative became unwell, and we realised how difficult it was to find the necessary help for her. It is vital, therefore, that more organisations start the conversation about informal carers in the workplace. Whilst some have done this, the HR industry as a whole is yet to catch up.

Thereafter, support systems and structures can help. WeMa Care was designed to do just this – it acts as a concierge service within organisations, allowing employees to access advice on what services they require. WeMa Life provides the marketplace for the choosing of care and WeMa Plus enables its delivery.

However, what is most important is that all employers realise the scale of the burden facing working carers. Once they do, they must begin implementing new schemes to help them – to the extent that has happened with mental health – to improve both staff wellbeing and overall productivity.

*Vivek Patni is the CEO of Lavanya Plus, which has created CareTech solution WeMa (short for Wellness Management). WeMa consists of two complementary functions – WeMa Care, a B2B CareTech platform, enabling employers to provide better support for employees who require care services, either for themselves or on behalf of a loved one; and WeMa Life, an online marketplace that connects care service providers with consumers, allowing them to pay for and manage bookings quickly and easily. Additionally, WeMa also offers WeMa Plus, a booking platform for care providers, ensuring they are able to effectively manage their appointments. WeMa matches individuals with the most suitable service providers that can deliver their personalised care needs within their budgets. On a mission to Connect Care in Communities, Lavanya Plus currently has an open funding round, giving investors the chance to be a part of this early-stage CareTech company’s journey.

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