Responsibility to support carers at work shouldn’t rest solely on the government. This expert says employers need to do more.
The final report of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety laid out an extensive plan to overhaul Australia’s aged care system. The report acknowledged the aged care system is difficult to access and navigate, and the availability of helpful and comprehensive information is critical to empower older people to make choices about their care.
Among its 148 recommendations, the report calls for system overhaul, funding based on need and much more robust regulation and transparency.
And while the government has so far committed $17.7 billion in the recent federal budget, change won’t happen overnight.
In the meantime, millions of Australians will continue to struggle every day navigating our aged care system’s complexities and costs, either for themselves or their loved ones.
Many employees combine paid work with caring for someone who is ageing or living with additional support needs. One in eight working Australians are acting as carers, and one in four of these are primary carers. These people essentially have two full-time jobs – working for an employer and caring for a family member or loved one.
While supporting someone as a carer is in many ways rewarding – leading to strengthened relationships and enabling someone to improve their quality of life – caring for an older loved one can also be stressful and time-consuming.
There is a significant need – and opportunity – for employers to do more to support their employees in their carer roles.
What’s being done?
With our ageing population, it’s clear that caregiving supports, particularly for employees with ageing family members, are becoming a core requirement of employee benefits programs and wellbeing.
The WGEA Employer of Choice citation has acknowledged this by adding a new requirement for 2021-22, judging employers against the extent to which they include elder care-giver responsibility support in their workplace strategy and policies. This must be beyond leave entitlements, and extend to other support mechanisms for employees.
A recent study from Deloitte highlighted that the demand for informal care – that is, care provided by those in the workplace – will grow by around 23 per cent in the next 10 years.
That means more people than ever before are now or will soon be acting as carers for the first time, trying to navigate the aged care system and find a trusted source of reliable, accessible and independent information.
But this is a time-intensive process and takes a toll on carers.
As a result, 83 per cent regularly miss work and 81 per cent say they deal with carer-related distractions during their work day.
Many informal carers have to partially or fully withdraw from the labour force to provide care at certain times during their working lives. According to Deloitte, the lost earnings – or opportunity cost – from this reduced employment output is valued at $15.2 billion each year.
The benefits for business
It’s well-known that providing specific workplace arrangements for carers has significant advantages for employers. Offering workplace benefits including support tools and flexible leave is essential to foster a productive, healthy and thriving workforce.
It will lead to a reduction in unplanned leave, reduction in loss of key talent in the key 45 plus age group who may otherwise leave the workplace to take on caring responsibilities. And employers will see a reduction in absenteeism due to worry and stress of navigating the aged care system and caring for their elderly loved ones.
The Aged Care Royal Commission missed an opportunity by not challenging institutions to better support Australians across their ageing care and living needs. Instead, the final report leans entirely on the government to solve for improving access. This is far too narrow a perspective.
It is clear Australia needs to be innovative in how it supports people as our society rapidly ages. Corporate employers and other trusted institutions in people’s lives are well-positioned to fill this gap and provide this level of support.
It’s in everyone’s interest to ensure carers are supported at work.
William Burkitt is the retirement innovation leader at Mercer.