There are millions of people in the UK needing long-term care – and for many, family support is the best option. The cost and high demand for professional services mean they are not available to everyone. Also, family members often want to look after their loved ones rather than outsourcing help to someone else.

Even when people are willing and able to become a carer, however, they can’t always afford to give up their day job. And this difficult situation piles on pressure at work and at home.

The UK government has now recognised that many working carers have reached breaking point, and is taking steps to support them by introducing a new Carer’s Leave Bill.

How many working carers are there in the UK?

Over 6.5 million people in Britain are carers, according to Carers UK statistics, and five million also have a separate job. That means 1 in 7 people in the UK’s workforce have to balance work with the demands of caring for someone close to them.

These figures don’t account for informal care arrangements, either. The government estimates that around 6% of the UK population perform unpaid care duties for friends and families struggling with illness, disabilities, addictions, and the limitations of old age.

Juggling a career and caring is a huge challenge. Logistically, employees are trying to fit their work schedule around the daily routine of looking after someone else, plus regular requirements such as taking loved ones to hospital appointments and for medical procedures.

Emotionally, many working carers struggle with the demands of being needed in two places. In fact, 72% of carers report suffering from mental health struggles.

What is the Carer’s Leave Bill?

To ease the burden on people who are simultaneously working and caring, the UK government passed the Carer’s Leave Bill in October 2022. This new law entitled employees to take up to one week of unpaid leave each year, to focus on caring for others or arranging appropriate care.

Carer’s Leave is available to staff from their first day of employment. There’s no requirement for workers to show how they’ll be using their unpaid leave – or who they’ll be using it for. And currently, no further details have been released on how businesses should implement this new legislation.

What does the Carer’s Leave Bill mean for employers?

As with any new piece of legislation, there’s a practical and financial impact for companies. While the carer’s leave is unpaid, additional time off reduces the capacity of your workforce – and in some cases may result in employers needing to bring in temporary staff.

There’s also the headache of tracking this type of leave. Many companies are still using spreadsheets to run the holiday calendar, which can only record time off – not the reason why. This limitation could mean that an employee appears to have booked too much holiday, when in reality they are taking days off as part of their carer’s leave entitlement.

The best way to navigate the complexities of paid and unpaid time off is to invest in an online leave management system. Staff leave can be categorised by type, so you can easily see how many days someone has taken for caring responsibilities during the year.

Another obstacle that companies face is regulation ambiguity. A lack of clarity around how much notice people they need to give could mean that firms receive last-minute request from working carers. Organisations with a well-organised leave management system will be able to cope with sudden changes much better than firms still relying on spreadsheets.

Managing unpaid care leave becomes even more challenging if you’re a shift-based business: losing one person can affect the entire schedule.

If you’re using online shift planning software then it’s easier to identify and fill staffing gaps, and to share updated rosters with your team. But if you’re still planning shifts on spreadsheets, it can take hours to rework the schedule – or leave you with a dangerous gap in your shift plan.

What else can companies do to support working carers?

While the Carer’s Leave Bill is a step in the right direction, one week of unpaid leave gets used up very quickly. Most people needing care have intense or complex medical needs, which puts a perpetual strain on those looking after them. What happens when your employee needs to take additional time off?

Flexibility is key to helping employees who care for loved ones. Adapting their schedule to fit daily personal tasks can help them to be more present at work. Allowing them to work from home when needed can also support a better work/life balance. Both these arrangements can be managed through a shift planning platform like WhosOffice.

You can also use WhosOffice to create online HR records for each staff member, to save notes on their individual circumstances. This will help you to educate line managers and senior staff on the challenges that working carers face, and enable you to identify the best ways to support employees who also care for loved ones.

Making life simpler for working carers makes emotional sense and business sense. Staff are less stretched and less stressed, so they can contribute more to their job without compromising their personal commitments. And it’s easy to offer a greater level of flexibility if you’re coordinating staff schedules through people management software like WhosOffice.

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