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  • Michelle Smith

Balancing caring responsibilities and work. An example of best practice.

This week, I have been reflecting on time spent with a family who were dealing with an unexpected diagnosis of a terminal illness with a particularly poor prognosis.


The husband, Tim had been fit and well with no symptoms other than bruising and fatigue but had been managing to hold down a full time engineering job and his wife Julie, had a full time role as a receptionist.


The couple have adult children, all of whom have left home and live independently.

Blood tests soon revealed a blood cancer with a prognosis of just 6 - 8 weeks.


The news was broken in an oncology clinic and, despite being broken by a very skilled Consultant, came without warning and was of course a huge shock to the couple.


The morning after, both called their respective employers, Tim to say he would not be returning to work and Julie, called her employer with the intention of handing in her resignation to become Tim's full time carer.


She also she would cope well with the pending bereavement and felt that resigning with immediate effect was her only option.


Tim's organisation were extremely supportive and ensured that the process was as smooth and as stress free as could be expected. They sensitively advised that he should not resign as doing so would forfeit his death in service payment and all measures were taken to help the couple ensure essential details were in place to make this process as simple for Julie as possible in the event of Tim's death.


Julie spoke with her line manager who asked if she could seek further advice before accepting her resignation - this additional time was granted and Julie was contacted the following day by her line manager.


Her organisation invited her in and her line manager and a member of the human resources team sat with her.


They didn't start by telling her what she should or shouldn't do, instead they allowed her time to share her story and allowed them to understand what she felt the barriers might be in enabling her to retain her job.


Julie listed the following as reasons she felt she needed to offer her resignation:-


- Multiple hospice and hospital appointments for support and treatments

- With such a short prognosis, she did not want to be away from Tim and wanted to spend those precious last weeks at his side.

- She was struggling to understand how she would manage after Tim's death and did not think she would manage to return to work within an acceptable time frame or be able to return to role with a demand for human interaction.


Julie's line manager and HR team worked with her and asked her to reconsider submitting her resignation. Instead they offered that she take as much time of as required to spend time with Tim and asked if they could liaise with the palliative care nurse involved in Tim's care to ensure that they had a good understanding of Tim's illness and this in turn, allowed them a more empathetic approach in supporting Julie.


Tim died only 4 weeks after his diagnosis but Julie's line manager was in touch on a weekly basis (as agreed between them both at the start of this process) and this model of communication continued into the bereavement phase of Julie's journey.


Her organisation allowed her to take a total of 4 months away from the workplace and had a strong model of communication between Julie and her line manager which developed a strong level of trust between the two.


Time to attend counselling is still offered 2 years after his death in terms of flexible working hours on those days and anniversaries are acknowledged as days that Julie requires to take as leave or work from home depending on what she needs to do.


Julie is supported in making the decisions that enable her to remain in work feeling well supported and has in turn allowed her to retain her permanent full time employment status.


Currently in the UK, over 3 million of the workforce are also balancing caring responsibilities but 1 in 5 are forced to give up work completely according to Carers UK.


Carers.org note that 3 in 5 people will be carers at some point in their lives and 1 in 5 people aged 50-64 years of age are currently carers.


By 2030, it is expected that there will be a 60% increase in the number of people with caring responsibilities. This will have an impact on the workplace and organisations should act now to upskill HR teams and line managers in understanding the needs of the carers within their workforce (not all of whom will be willing to self identify and this should be a further consideration) so that we can actively reduce the 1 in 5 carers who feel forced to give up work.












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