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Employers struggle with absence levels due to ‘secret’ carers, reports CIPD

More than one in three employers report that absence levels have increased because their staff are struggling to cope with their caring responsibilities outside of work.

But, new figures from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, show that just one in six organisations have policies in place to help achieve a better balance between their home and working lives. 

The annual CIPD/Simplyhealth Absence Management survey shows that savvy employers put policies in place to help staff fulfil their caring responsibilities outside of work while continuing to meet the demands of their job. Flexible working arrangements are by far the most common type of support (68%), followed by compassionate leave (53%) and (paid or unpaid) carers’ leave (48%). Two-fifths (42%) offer access to counselling services and three in ten offer career breaks and sabbaticals.  One in six organisations offer access to financial services (17%) or options to purchase additional annual leave days (15%). Although only one in six employers say they have organisation wide policies or guidelines in place for carers, an additional two fifths report that they do offer support to individuals on an ad hoc basis. The CIPD is now calling on more businesses to adopt a formal policy to support workers, and ultimately benefit business.  

Dr. Jill Miller, CIPD Research Adviser, comments: “Supporting those with caring responsibilities to balance their work and home lives, and therefore retaining our talent, is a key issue. Recent UKCES research has predicted that there will be four generations working side-by-side by 2030. With this 4G UK workforce, employers are having to manage an increasingly diverse range of employee needs. We’re seeing intergenerational issues coming to the fore; and in particular, a rise in the number of people with caring responsibilities. And this is an issue that is set to increase for the growing ‘sandwich generation.’  As people have children later, and are looking after parents in the ageing baby boomer generation, they find themselves caring for both their children and their older relatives. 

“It’s therefore absolutely vital that employers have strong wellbeing policies in place, and communicate the benefits of flexible working to their employees, who all have the right to request to work flexibly under new legislation. But most importantly, line managers need to receive adequate training on how to have constructive discussions with their staff about the various benefits available to them. And it’s proven that flexible working can improve engagement and productivity within the workforce. With this in mind, hopefully in the future more workers will be able to handle the demands of caring.”

Other findings from the survey show that overall absence levels have dropped from 7.6 days per year to 6.6 (public sector: 7.9, private sector: 5.5, voluntary sector: 7.4). However, findings also show that there has been a significant rise in the number of employees still attending work whilst sick, a trend called ‘presenteeism,’ with a third of employers revealing employees have been struggling in to work whilst sick. Stress and mental health problems in the workplace also remain high, with over 40% of employers citing an increase, despite signs of economic recovery. 70% also stated that they believe absence levels can be reduced further, signalling a need for an overhaul of wellbeing policies. 

Dr. Jill Miller added: “On the face of it these figures look positive as overall absence levels have dropped by a whole day. Yet it’s clear that there are underlying deeper issues, with many employers telling us that employees are still struggling into work whilst sick, whilst others are struggling to manage work with home responsibilities. These pressures can have an extremely negative impact on the workforce. It’s important that employers address this presenteeism, in particular looking at managing workloads, so that when people are off sick they feel they can stay at home and recuperate before coming back to work.”

Corinne Williams, Head of HR at Simplyhealth, comments: “Adapting both working practices and health and wellbeing initiatives to support the changing needs of today’s modern workforce is a must for organisations. The expectation that employees conform to rigid working patterns is becoming a thing of the past as demands on an individual’s time continue to increase. This ‘sandwich’ generation are operating at capacity and it’s essential that they receive as much support as possible to help them meet their commitments at home as well as at work.  Although it’s great to see that this year a fifth of organisations have increased their wellbeing spend, it needn’t cost the earth. Understanding the issues affecting your employees and equipping line management with the tools they need to help support them is key to a healthy, happy workforce.”  

Emily Holzhausen, Director of Policy at Carers UK, said: “3 million people are juggling work with caring for an older or disabled loved one. Without the right policies in the workplace and the support of good quality, flexible and affordable care services, these employees often feel unable to juggle it all, with millions feeling they have no alternative but to give up work to care. We estimate this costs business £3.5 billion a year, with extra costs to the economy and to the families themselves in lost earnings and pensions."

CIPD and Simplyhealth will be discussing the findings from this year’s report at the CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition at Manchester Central on 6 November. The presentation will take place at 13:00 in the Ideas Exchange. For more information click here

Download the full report here

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