Analysis: Canadian organizations need to better support carer-employees in the workplace

Two people's hands cupped around each other.

One in four Canadians between the ages of 19 and 70 balances paid employment with caregiving responsibilities. (Shutterstock)

Logo for the ConversationThis article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As Canada observes National Caregiver Day (April 2), it’s a special occasion for recognizing and honouring those who provide unpaid care to those in need.

Unpaid care work is the backbone of the health-care system. Carers of all ages — youth, seniors and those in the prime of their careers — contribute to the overall health of the country, its labour markets and economic development.

In 2018, one in four Canadians between the ages of 19 and 70 — most of whom work full-time hours — balanced paid employment with caregiving responsibilities. One job was to pay the bills, while the other involved caring for a loved one who was sick, disabled or dying.

These individuals are known as carer-employees. They often experience a range of negative health impacts, including life satisfaction, general health and mental health.

The majority of employers across Canada do not accommodate carers in the workplace. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada had the lowest rate of employer support out of a 12-country comparison (including the G7 and Australia), with Canadian carer-employees reporting the most difficulty balancing their job with caring.

Canada needs to follow the lead of other nations that have implemented such laws and policies to improve its legislative support for carer-employees.

Canadians can make National Caregiver Day count for their organizations by not only celebrating the carer-employees that work there, but by sustaining their continued employment through the creation of carer-friendly supports.

Meeting the needs of carer-employees

There is a clear path forward to accommodating and improving the lives of carer-employees. A recent community-university partnership, where McMaster University partnered with Carers Canada, provides solutions for improving the lives of carer-employees.

The Balancing Work and Care report outlines four pillars to help organizations create more flexible and accommodating workplaces that meet the needs of individuals balancing paid work and unpaid caregiving responsibilities.

  1. Policy: Canada should aim to rank first among the G7 in providing supports for carers. This should include financial programs that provide the means for carer-employees to modify their employment while caregiving.
  2. Culture: Work and life should be meaningfully integrated and normalized so caregiving responsibilities can be equitably accommodated.
  3. Leadership: Employers should involve employees in the creation of carer-friendly and supportive workplaces as part of their core organizational operating procedures.
  4. Motivation: Employers across Canada should have access to independent, applied research to inform their policies and practices for carer-employees.

A young woman helps an elderly woman, who is seated in bed, put a shirt on
Carer-employees are part of a substantial cohort of people providing caregiving for a loved one while juggling their paid employment (Shutterstock)

Our report envisions a world where workplace accommodations for carer-employees is a universal practice that is documented and transparent in the policies and procedures of the workplace.

Acknowledging and supporting carer-employees not only demonstrates compassion and humanity, but also makes good business sense. In Canada, the annual cost of replacing the unpaid work provided by these carer-employees amounts to a staggering $51.5 billion.

Supporting carer-employees is a win for both employers and employees. Developing carer-friendly workplaces helps support and retain employees while improving recruitment efforts, increases employee productivity and loyalty, reduces costs associated with frequent absences and disability claims, and improves equity, diversity and inclusion goals, work-life balance, and psychological health and safety. The first step is simply to begin — to start with one department, one team or one location.

Building better workplaces

To celebrate National Caregiver Day this year, McMaster University is launching a free online course called Creating Caregiver-Friendly Workplaces. This short 10-hour course is directed at employers, labour organizations, and human resources, occupational health and safety, and public health professionals — all of whom receive a microcredential upon course completion.

fMcMaster’s Gender, Health and Caregiver Friendly Workplaces program is another key source for both research evidence and tools for organizations. The program’s goal is to enhance the support of carer-employees by providing research and practical tools for enacting meaningful change in the workplace.

A young woman with an exhausted look on her face rests her head in her hands while sitting at a desk in front of an open laptop
Acknowledging and supporting carer-employees not only demonstrates compassion and humanity, but also makes good business sense. (Shutterstock)

Further, numerous complimentary resources are available to both Canadian businesses and carer-employees, including the Canadian Standards Association’s (CSA) carer-friendly workplace standard and its accompanying implementation guide. These resources offer practical ideas for creating carer-friendly workplaces.

The standard applies to any organization, regardless of size, public or private sector, location or community setting. It can be used in conjunction with an organization’s management system or human resource program, or in the absence of a workplace program to support carer-employees. Although organizations are encouraged to engage with the Standard in a voluntary capacity at this time, we are hopeful that the government will make this a requirement.

The CSA Standard is a Canadian success story, as it was the seed document for the International Organization for Standardization’s standard created by an international working group initiated by and including Canadians. The ISO standard addresses eight United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality, decent work and economic growth, and good health and well-being.

Learn more: Free online course focuses on creating caregiver-friendly workplaces

Caring for the future

As the world ages, more unpaid care is required by family, friends and neighbours. Currently 349 million people worldwide are estimated to be depending on care, with 101 million of these 60 years of age and older. The growing number of carer-employees need to be supported to best balance their caring role with work responsibilities.

On behalf of more than 25 national partners dedicated to promoting carer-friendly workplaces, including the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence, the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Unifor and the Canadian Cancer Society, and the numerous researchers working in this area, I urge all Canadians to contribute to the change needed to create better carer-friendly workplaces.

By acknowledging the invaluable contributions of caregiver-employees and implementing supportive policies and practices, we can create environments where both caregiving responsibilities and work commitments can co-exist harmoniously.The Conversation

Allison Williams, Professor, Faculty of Science, McMaster University. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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