2020 has been an unprecedented time for employers, with the sudden emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic creating a very challenging year for Scottish businesses. With a vaccine being rolled out across the country, employers and staff members alike are now keen to establish what the future of working life will look like in Scotland.

At this time, employers may also have become increasingly aware of the growing number of people in work while caring for someone who may be older, frail, ill or disabled. 2020 saw a massive increase in carers with in the number of people caring for friends, family or loved ones rising by almost 400,000 to a current estimated total of 1.1 million. Having staff members on your team with caring responsibilities is already more common than many employers realise and this issue is only going to increase as we move into the future.

Managing these roles has always been challenging, and the pandemic certainly highlighted this for many people. Working carers have had the additional concern of caring for people who may be vulnerable, or shielding. Many care services have been withdrawn causing their caring demands to intensify, while the social aspects of their life away from caring have diminished, contributing to feelings of isolation. However, the sudden necessity to adapt to different working models has also brought about new opportunities.

For a long time we have recognised flexible styles of working as something that can be hugely beneficial for all staff members, but particularly those juggling caring responsibilities with work. The right to request flexible working has been strengthened in statutory terms in recent years and therefore has become more common, however prior to 2020, many employers still had reservations about the practical challenges of utilising flexible and home working. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions saw a sudden and drastic change in this, with many organisations forced to act quickly to enable remote and flexible working in order to continue operations.

Lessons learned from 2020

The speed of the move to home working has been impressive, with staff members adapting quickly and gaining new skills to allow teams to collaborate remotely and meet work commitments in new ways. Furthermore, it has confirmed to employers that flexible working can be entirely viable and many employees have reported that this increased flexibility has enabled them to organise their working hours more effectively and productively.

Embracing online communication platforms has perhaps been the revelation of 2020, bringing new opportunities to maintain and even widen existing networks. Attending meetings has become easier without the need to travel and new ways of connecting with staff has provided health and wellbeing support through innovative online outreach models.

Despite these achievements, it is important to acknowledge that the adaption to remote working has not been without challenges and in many organisations it has not been possible for front-line staff, factory workers and other employees. Additionally, transitions haven’t necessarily been smooth, with systems and technologies ill equipped to adapt and of course home wifi often being a recurring issue!

The overwhelming message however is that home working works – the challenges that remain will continue to be ironed out in recognition of its growing potential, in conjunction with the possibility of more blended models of working as we look towards the future.

Looking Forward: 2021 and beyond

Aside from the impact of Covid-19, the number of working carers has been rising in line with an ageing demographic and ageing workforce. Therefore, ensuring support for staff members who are carers is vital to help future-proof your organisation.

As we begin 2021, we urge employers to be aware of the challenges faced by staff with caring responsibilities; to consider how they reach out and identify those employees, how to support them, and how this is reflected in workplace culture and policies.

Some starting points might include:

  • Identify and reconnect – some staff may be new to caring since the pandemic, while those who were known carers may have experienced changes to their circumstances.
  • Communicate and raise awareness – many people don’t recognise themselves as ‘carers’ or are hesitant to raise the issue. Show them you understand and want to support them.
  • Continue to explore new and different ways of working flexibly to reflect individual needs and circumstances.
  • Look at existing workplace policies to ensure they represent carers and that there is clarity around what provision is in place.
  • Care services may be disrupted for some time, so ensure that transitions back to the workplace recognise that some employees may continue to have increased caring responsibilities.

At Carer Positive we work closely with employers across Scotland to help them develop supportive policies and practice. Organisations can also gain recognition as ‘Carer Positive Employers’ through our multi-level awards programme.

Becoming a Carer Positive Employer

Carer Positive is a Scottish Government initiative, delivered by Carers Scotland. Participation is entirely free for Scottish organisations and provides access to expert advice, resources, testimonials and events where you can network with other like-minded employers. We exist to raise awareness around working carers and to assist employers in creating and developing a supportive workplace for their staff members with caring responsibilities.

Supportive employers can also apply for our multi-level award to be officially recognised as a Carer Positive Employer. Becoming recognised with a Carer Positive Award sends a strong supportive message to both existing and potential new staff, as well setting an excellent standard as an employer in Scotland. Our award scheme is recommended within the Scottish Business Pledge and linked in the Scottish Government’s recent ‘Coronavirus (Covid-19) Guidance for Homeworking’.

We encourage all interested organisations to visit our website – www.carerpositive.org – for more information and get in touch to find out how you can become a Carer Positive Employer.

Case Study: Historic Environment Scotland

Over 200 organisations have been recognised as ‘Carer Positive Employers’ in Scotland. Most recently, Historic Environment Scotland with 1,400 employees was awarded in November 2020. HES has been increasingly aware of the challenges faced by employees who are carers, particularly highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic, and has been keen to reach out to and support staff with caring responsibilities.

Led by the organisation’s Wellbeing Team, and working closely with local carers centre VOCAL (Voices of Carers across Lothian), HES has developed a range of activities to encourage carers to identify themselves and seek support from line managers and the HES Wellbeing group. Flexible working options and monthly awareness campaigns also help signpost carers to relevant information and advice. Looking to the future, HES plan to launch a new Carers Policy, training for managers, and a staff Carers Network in 2021.

Angie Hamilton, Head of Wellbeing at Historic Environment Scotland commented: “HES is delighted to be recognised as a Carer Positive employer. We are committed to supporting working carers within HES and we will continue to develop our wellbeing support and services to carers within our organisation.”