The new Carer-Inclusive Workplace Initiative aims to increase workforce participation among carers and help employers provide better support to this vital demographic.
The federal government has launched a new initiative to help break down barriers faced by carers in the workplace.
Announced on 19 October, the Carer-Inclusive Workplace Initiative is a response to some of the recommendations made at last year’s Jobs Summit. The initiative aims to create more inclusive and supportive workplaces for the approximately 2.65 million Australians who currently provide unpaid care.
“Australia’s ageing population, cost-of-living pressures and evolving lifestyles are reshaping the landscape of caregiving,” said Minister for Social Services Amanda Rishworth in a statement upon the initiative’s release.
“Just as workplaces have adapted to accommodate parents caring for children, it is crucial that we acknowledge the unique challenges faced by carers and provide them with the support needed to thrive in their careers.”
To develop the initiative, the government partnered with Carers Australia, the national peak body representing Australia’s carers, who worked in conjunction with representatives from various industries, the National Carer Network and, most importantly, lived experience carers to build and implement the strategy.
“It’s designed to increase the participation of carers in the workforce so employers and carers can come together in a way where carers feel enabled to be in the workplace, and supported and respected in the workplace,” says Jane Bacot-Kilpatrick, CEO of Carers Australia.
“The initiative is designed for all businesses. It provides them with a self-assessment tool so they can consider how their existing policies and practices relate to being carer-inclusive. It also gives them access to resources and learning modules to consider how they might improve their approach.”
Breaking down barriers faced by carers
The difficulties faced by carers in Australia were laid bare by this year’s Carer Wellbeing Survey, published just over a week before the initiative was announced.
According to this report, unpaid carers represent around 11 per cent of the Australian population. It’s estimated the equivalent paid services would cost nearly $78 billion each year if not provided by unpaid carers.
Despite the indispensable role unpaid carers play in the community, the survey also revealed significant roadblocks to finding and maintaining employment among this cohort.
Almost two thirds of carers (64 per cent) reported low satisfaction with their ability to participate in paid work, and even more (68 per cent) reported low satisfaction with their ability to do further education or training.
“Caring can be very unpredictable. Anybody can become a carer at any time, and sometimes it can happen on very short notice.” – Jane Bacot-Kilpatrick, CEO of Carers Australia
Carers were also almost twice as likely (58 per cent) to report low levels of wellbeing compared to the national average (30 per cent). However, carers with employers who were highly supportive of their caregiving role were significantly less likely to report low wellbeing (53 per cent) compared to those who felt their employers were not understanding (71 per cent).
“When carers are in a supportive environment, feeling that they are valued as an employee as well as a carer, and enabled to be both, that contributes to their general sense of wellbeing, their mental health, their ability to have social connection and, of course, their financial security,” says Bacot-Kilpatrick.
The Carer-Inclusive Workplace Initiative was announced during this year’s National Carers Week, which focused on appreciating and acknowledging unpaid carers and their contribution to society. Bacot-Kilpatrick hopes the initiative will encourage employers to celebrate the transferrable skills carers can bring to the table.
“Carers can very quickly understand systems and processes. Over 40 per cent of them spend at least an hour a week navigating the systems that are there to support them and the people they care for,” she says.
“They develop skills in advocacy, they are able to navigate complexity, they are very flexible – because they have to be – and they are tenacious. These are skills that any employer would want, and they are skills we should celebrate and make best use of.
“There’s an imperative to be a caring, inclusive organisation – we’re a diverse country. So there are benefits in terms of your operations and your reputation. But, ultimately, you get access to an untapped pool of talent that you might not ordinarily be able to get hold of. And that gives you an edge over other employers in a very competitive market.”
How the initiative will work
The new initiative is part of a broader suite of industrial relations changes to help build more supportive workplaces for carers.
“It’s a very busy environment for carers at the moment,” says Bacot-Kilpatrick. “There’s a parliamentary inquiry into the recognition of unpaid carers. Last month, the Minister announced the development of a new National Carer Strategy. And the recent Intergenerational Report published by the government in August also noted the potential for an increased requirements for unpaid carers for an ageing population.
“All of those things need to be balanced. And the Carer-Inclusive Workplace Initiative is one way of trying to have some balance in all of that.”
As part of the initiative, employers are encouraged to take stock of how carer-inclusive their workplaces are by completing a short self-assessment. The 15-minute survey provides an inclusivity score and directs employers to further resources where required.
“The resources include things like template policies for flexible working, and there’s also a package of e-learning modules, with more to come,” says Bacot-Kilpatrick.
Organisations that score highly on the assessment will be awarded with a brand mark to showcase their commitment to carer inclusivity.
“The mark is attractive to an employee who’s considering joining an organisation, but it’s a statement of intent for the organisation as well. If that employer is looking to go further, they can consider a pathway to formal accreditation.”
The assessment prompts employers to consider whether they understand the definition of a carer, whether they are aware of the carers that exist within the organisation and how they could adapt their practices to improve workforce participation among carers.
“We might value them in our family setups, or in our social setups, but [we need to] recognise that carers have identity in the workplace as well.” – Jane Bacot-Kilpatrick, CEO of Carers Australia
How to build a more carer-inclusive workplace
Beyond completing the self-assessment, Bacot-Kilpatrick recommends a number of steps employers can take to proactively build better workplaces for carers.
One of the most critical considerations in this area is flexibility. Employers have a legal imperative to consider flexible work requests from employees who are carers within the meaning of the Carer Recognition Act 2010 – i.e. people who provide unpaid care and support to family members and/or friends who have a disability, a mental health condition, a chronic condition, a terminal illness, an alcohol or other drug issue, or who are at a frail age.
“Caring can be very unpredictable. Anybody can become a carer at any time, and sometimes it can happen on very short notice. Some do it continuously, or it can be in fits and starts. [That means] flexibility needs to be truly flexible.”
She also suggests employers put themselves in the shoes of carers before rolling out initiatives of their own.
“[It’s important] to consider carers in every policy, practice, program and activity. If you’re developing a policy, the impact on carers needs to be a litmus test for all your activities.
“It needs to be really high-priority, because of the contribution they make to the person they care for and the community, but also the ability for them to continue to contribute to an organisation.”
Bacot-Kilpatrick encourages employers to embrace the Carer-Inclusive Workplace Initiative as an opportunity to assess and improve their ability to tap into the skills of this cohort and build a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
“It’s about that continuing appreciation for carers in our community; we might value them in our family setups, or in our social setups, but [we need to] recognise that carers have identity in the workplace as well.”
Need help taking steps to support inclusion in the workplace? AHRI’s short course will provide you with techniques to create more equitable work environments.