How the Centre for Ageing Better supports its carer employees

Sharon DaleyThe Centre for Ageing Better is working for change. Not just to help people enjoy a better quality of life in their later years, but also to support its employees with caring responsibilities.

As Sharon Daley, Director of Operations and Finance, explains: “We’re an ageing population and more people have caring responsibilities. That needs supporting from employers. As an organisation, we aim to be exemplary. We strive to be highly supportive and proactive, recognising that many of us have caring responsibilities – and it’s part of what we stand for at the Centre for Ageing Better.”

Supporting Lucinda in the workplace

One employee who has experienced the charity’s supportive and proactive attitude to carers is Lucinda Crowther, a Programme Business Manager.

“I have both formal and informal caring responsibilities. Twenty years ago, my husband had a rugby accident and is a tetraplegic, so he’s in a wheelchair. He’s very independent and works, but things with him can change in a heartbeat. I also care for my mum who is a widow, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy last year.”

Before joining the Centre for Ageing Better, Lucinda found that temporary employment contracts were the most flexible fit to match her caring responsibilities. Then she took a temping role at the Centre for Ageing Better, where she discovered the life-changing benefits of an employer that both recognises and supports carers.

“I raised it on my first day when we talked about hours. I’ve found that it helps if you can give employers an idea of the kind of thing that can happen – to help them understand your responsibilities. So I said, ‘I do have a husband in a wheelchair, he does work, but occasionally I will get a phone call and I’ll have to leave. I hope this is OK’. Then I explained how one time he had an accident at work and he couldn’t get home, and in this case, I had to drop everything, help him home and work there for the afternoon. They said absolutely ­– they didn’t even blink an eyelid.”

A strategy to support all employees

To help build their strategy to support carers such as Lucinda, the Centre for Ageing Better has signed up to Employers for Carers, supported by Carers UK. The guidelines and advice have enabled the Centre to create a flexible working policy which changes with employees’ needs.

As Sharon says, “Life changes, so we make sure employees can change from full to part time. They can work around our core working hours, or they can work compressed hours. We also have a carers’ leave policy where we offer up to five days’ paid leave for people with caring responsibilities in emergencies – because this can have a real impact on annual leave, which is precious.” 

In practice, the flexible working policy at the Centre for Ageing Better has made a huge difference to Lucinda who, like most carers, can find herself overwhelmed by her responsibilities.

“I went down from five days to four. I needed a day off for me because the weekend is taken up with doing things for my husband. Sometimes the caring and work commitments can be overwhelming, so when I need to, I have a separate conversation with my manager about that, and we talk about whether I need an extra half day or something to look after myself. Because that is the way of the carer – sometimes the last person they look after is themselves. I also have a formal check-in every month to see how I’m coping. But we also catch up informally.”

However, at the Centre for Ageing Better, they do this for every employee, not just carers. And Lucinda feels that this is very positive for everyone, as anyone can become a carer at any time, with unexpected responsibilities and new pressures.

In fact, Sharon points out that there are many carers in the workforce who don’t recognise themselves as such. “We asked people in the company on a diversity questionnaire, who would consider themselves a carer. Interestingly, it came really low and I knew there were more staff who would be classified as carers. So, we’re doing what we can to say to our staff, ‘It’s OK, we’ll do what we can to support you. We are a charity, so there is a limit, but we are here and we are able to help.’”

Sharon and Lucinda’s advice for carers looking for flexible employment

When looking for flexible employment, Sharon recommends that carers visit “This list of members is a good start. And research employers to see what their take on carers is. There’s no need to disclose it as any part of the recruitment process. It’s more for the employer to make reasonable adjustments when someone comes on-board.”

And Lucinda’s advice? She says it’s taken her 15 years and a more positive attitude toward carer employees in the work environment to reach this conclusion, but now her mantra is: “First, don’t be afraid. Apply for jobs and ask about flexible options - you don’t have to explain why. Second, always put yourself first and apply for things that interest you, with the chance to be flexible. And lastly, don’t apologise for being a carer. That’s what I used to do, but you don’t have to now, because employers are finding that carers have a lot to offer and we make such a loyal workforce.”

The Centre for Ageing Better recently published ‘Becoming an age-friendly employer’, which recommended that all employers offer flexibility to their staff as standard

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