Even more invisible......
Before the Coronavirus pandemic hit, we knew that 1 in 8 of our UK workforce were also juggling caring responsibilities. We also know that this figure was set to rise by 60% by 2030.
The difficulties carers were already experiencing were starting to slowly become better documented but there is no doubt that the pandemic will have escalated the impact on carers as well as increased the number of carers with resource across the healthcare sector being redirected to frontline care.
Within the existing evidence, the UK has a long way to go to better support staff that are also balancing caring responsibilities. It is true to say that many organisations still do not hold detail on how many of their workforce are also carers.
Without this basic practice in place, how can we ensure that our staff are treated equally and fairly and get the support that they require to enable to them to maintain the strong work life balance they need, the emotional support from the line manager and HR team, the confidence to be able to speak out when they need additional support? By getting this right, carers report greater job satisfaction and are less likely to look for alternative employment.
Changes in how we work
With organisational support and understanding for carers already identifying the need to improve, there will be additional barriers that the new ways of working forced upon us will present line managers. Virtual communication whilst allowing most of us to remain connected, prevents the assessment of non-verbal body language and it is harder to read when someone is perhaps quieter than they might normally be.
In our conversations, carers have told us that they say they are having connectivity issues so have turned the video off …. how many of us will take a step back and realise that this will not always be about broadband connection? The carers we have spoken to have said they are exhausted. Work was, to a degree, their outlet, and their coping so when they became homebased, that coping mechanism was removed. The carers choose not to go on camera for several reasons:
· They have not yet had time to shower and dress
· They do not want people to see they have been or are crying
· They are losing weight because they are not looking after themselves properly
· They are trying to keep the person they are caring for away from the camera and maintain privacy and in some cases, dignity if the person being cared for has dementia
· Sometimes, the carers have told us that they just do not want to see anyone
How do we know who our carers are?
Remember that what we do know is that many of our workforce who are also carers do not declare this because the workplace modelling and culture hasn’t yet evolved to this place. Try to imagine being either the carer or the line manager in any of the situations above ... as the line manager, how might you pick up on this? As the carer, how might you find the strength to share detail about your personal life and the pressures within it with your line manager? The evidence base tells us that the majority of line managers do not feel equipped to emotionally support their direct reports. Increasingly, staff will be referred to a telephone line employee assistance programme and, whilst these have a place, there is an increasing view that they are not sufficient alone. Organisations still need to invest in upskilling line managers helping them to read non verbal communication, understand barriers to communication and the impact that has on the organisation from a diversity and inclusion perspective, effectively deliver emotional support and learn effective and timely signposting skills. Organisations that have registers of carers will sometimes go on to have in house peer support groups. Again, more than ever before, we are seeing the relevance of peer support and that it is often, the first choice for people seeking support. They want tospeak to someone who really understand what it is like to be in their shoes.
Whilst these organisational support groups for carers are rare, they will have been further impacted by the pandemic because the ability to turn this into a virtual offer is not as straightforward as switching a normal work meeting.
A carer support group is where members will share their feelings of stress, their anxieties around their situation, how overwhelmed they are feeling .... All of this will usually be shared in a safe place away from the person they are caring for. Being able to debrief in this way allows for resilience to be maintained and caring duties to be sustained –it is another coping mechanism. By holding these meetings on a virtual platform, carers will not be able to share their situation as easily because the individual they are caring for is often in close proximity and the carer will have a desire to shield them from the difficulties they are experiencing.
Again, this requires organisations to dig a little deeper into reading behaviours and be more aware of signs that their direct reports might not be managing as well as they were before the pandemic.
Bereavement is well documented as being poorly supported in the workplace but how will this be managed effectively if line managers feel poorly equipped to deliver emotional support?
A number of the hidden carers within our workforce will have been bereaved during the pandemic. Not only because of the virus itself but severalthem will have been reaching the last months of life and will have died of their pre-existing condition. If we do notknow how many of our workforce are carers, how can we effectively support this bereavement process?
The truth behind the bereavement
If a staff member were to tell us that their Aunt died over the weekend,this would usually be met with the appropriate offer of condolences but little more. But, stop for just a moment....
What if that staff member had had to move the Aunt into their family home 2 years ago because her husband had died and their only daughter lives in New Zealand. The Aunt was diagnosed with bowel cancer 5 years ago and just after moving in with your staff member, all treatment was stopped,and the focus turned to ensuring symptoms were well controlled and good palliative care was in place. Your staff member has not shared this with you because one to one meetings are only 45 minutes long and there is always so much to cover, she is worried that if she starts to open up, she will become distressed and doesn’t want to make a fool of herself. Had there been an option to declare she was a carer, she is likely to have offered this information, it just has notactively been sought.
During the last 3 months, your staff member has had to take quite a few random annual leave days and has a minimal sick record, she is scared that she might lose her job if she takes any time off but she hasn’t looked into what support she might be entitled to under the organisational carers policy –she hasn’t had time to.
Before she leaves in the morning,she has had to ensure there is clean bed linen and that her Aunt has been washed, fed and that medications are all running to time. There will be a visit from an agency carer around midday to check on her Aunt but this will be less than 30 minutes and your staff member knows that she will be coming home to more washing to get through, meals to prepare for her Aunt and the family. She will also need to support her children with their homework and bedtime routine, her husband helps as much as he can around his shift pattern. She finishes work, exhausted and you have no concerns about her work, she is performing well and is keeping on top of her hours, occasionally doing more when required.
As she leaves for work, she knows she has to go to the pharmacy to collect her Aunts medications, drop her children at their session with the family support team at the hospice, collect any particular foods that help her Aunt eat and drink and collect a parcel that was delivered whilst she was at work.
Your staff member will ensure that the children get sufficient time and attention from her before she goes to get her Aunt ready for bed and settled for the night.
She will climb into bed just before midnight and be up again at 5am to start all over again.
After this being your staff members way of life for 2 years, when the Aunt dies, an offer of condolence, whilst appreciated, will not be enough to ensure this staff member moves through and beyond this bereavement effectively.
What your organisation can do to help
There are several measures that organisations can implement to help reduce the emotional and physical impact of stress on carers:
•Review your carers leave policy
•Review your bereavement leave policy
•Ensure your line managers have emotional support training
•Engage with your staff to find out if the staff support offer is sufficient
•Develop an in-housecarers register
•Develop a peer support forum for the carers in your workforce
•Ensure your line managers are effective sign posters
•Ensure your line managers have basic bereavement support skills
•Ensure your workforce has access to external facilitators to support with bereavement
•Ensure one to ones have the flex to overrun and let your staff know this
•Encourage an open-door policy so that staff are not just waiting for a scheduled meeting to share how they are feeling
•Ensure meetings are protected from interruption and are in a confidential setting
•Invite guest speakers to team meetings to give top tips on reading body language, bereavement support, listening skills etc
To see how Workplace Wellbeing EDGE can help you to help your colleagues - contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org or call EMMA on 07854 798617