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IMLA I&D Group: How to better support carers in our industry – Painter

by: Alison Painter, business development manager at TSB Bank
  • 21/06/2024
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IMLA I&D Group: How to better support carers in our industry – Painter
There are an estimated 5.7 million carers in the UK, most of them women.

The biggest unpaid carer cohort is the 46-65 age group, so most carers are of working age, many have reached professional positions of responsibility and plenty also have children of dependant age. According to Carers UK, unpaid carers save the UK £162bn per year, which illustrates how valuable and time-consuming an endeavour looking after those in need can be.

Of course, caring takes many forms, and can be very hard to juggle with the demands of a paid job, often on top of other family responsibilities.

So how can we as an industry, as employers and colleagues, best support those in our community with caring commitments? 

 

Identifying who needs help 

First, it is important to ask what constitutes a carer. 

Anyone who carries out tasks for a relative or close friend who could not manage without their help due to illness, disability, frailty due to old age, mental health or addiction issues is a carer. The list of tasks is rather long but includes preparing meals, shopping, doing chores, driving them to medical appointments, taking them for walks and providing emotional support. Those who spend more than 35 hours per week caring in this way qualify for a carer’s allowance, and there are around a million people in this category.

The other 4.7 million are unpaid carers, and many people working in the mortgage industry will fall into this group. 

But identifying the carers among us can be tricky. Not everyone feels comfortable talking about their family commitments in the workplace.

So, it is vital that we encourage honest communication, create ‘safe spaces’ where colleagues don’t feel judged for speaking about personal matters, and foster a culture of communication, so that no one is afraid to identify themselves as a carer and ask for the support they need. 

 

Putting it into practice 

Every employer has official working policies, and should have a policy in place for carers. Some run workplace support groups and forums for carers, some will offer paid and/or unpaid time off, for example.

In 2020, TSB introduced a new carer policy that gives employees 70 hours of paid leave per year to help them balance their careers and caring responsibilities in a way that best suits them. 

But at IMLA’s recent inclusion and diversity (I&D) discussion, it became apparent that the two key elements when it comes to helping colleagues with caring responsibilities are flexibility and workplace culture.

Here are some examples of stories shared with the group: 

Stuart Ottery, field-based business development manager at Hodge Bank:

“I joined Hodge in September 2021. A few weeks later, my wife Michelle, a teacher, became severely ill and was subsequently diagnosed with ME and fibromyalgia, conditions [that] cause chronic pain and fatigue. Our daughters were seven and 11 at the time. Michelle’s illness has obviously had a massive impact on our lives. She has had to give up work – some days she can’t shower and get dressed without help. I’ve had to learn to cook and do the girls’ hair in the morning. 

“Hodge has been amazing. I had only been there for a month when this happened. My colleagues have been superb, stepping in and even presenting at events for me on days when Michelle has needed me there. And my bosses have been absolutely phenomenal with their support and help and made what could have been a very difficult two years so much easier, as they have had my back from day one.

“I am sometimes approached by recruitment firms offering me more money for other jobs, but there is no way I would consider leaving. I owe Hodge such a debt of gratitude.” 

Kate McTernan, director of The Mortgage Advice Group: 

“I was a busy mortgage broker, working seven days a week and taking calls at all hours. When I had a child, I realised I could not maintain that pace. I took no maternity leave, and my husband was taking time off work to help out. When I started taking staff on to support me, I realised that if I created an environment that was kind to mothers, I could recruit some really, really good people who may not otherwise have considered doing a job like this because they have three or four children. 

“At the peak so far, we have employed 17 brokers, 14 of them mums. They are driven and financially motivated people, who just need the flexibility to work when it makes sense. Some have near full-time contracts, some work on Saturdays and take a day off in the week, when they can get on with other commitments when the kids are in school. Sports days and school plays go in the diary.

“As an employer, taking this approach creates enormous loyalty. In our case, obviously our colleagues are parents, as distinct from ‘unpaid carers’, but those principles of flexibility and support apply across both groups.” 

Andrew Montlake, managing director and business owner of Coreco:

“We have a mixture of employed and self-employed people at Coreco, some caring for elderly parents or disadvantaged children. We’re very keen to strike the right balance, to provide support while making people feel valued as part of our working community. We are a ‘family-first’ employer. But we don’t want those without caring commitments or kids to feel excluded. So, we give everyone two ‘me days’ a year, which they can take, even at a day’s notice, whenever they feel they need it. The proviso is that they must spend the time doing something that benefits them.” 

 

How to support employees and colleagues 

As a business owner, it is vital that you have workplace policies in place and revisit them regularly, to ensure they are providing your employees with the support they deserve. As an employee, it is important to be aware of the types of support available.

Even the most well-meaning policies cannot function properly without the right workplace culture. We all need to look out for each other and check in to make sure every team member is in a good place. This can be a particular challenge when people are working remotely.

So don’t just ask “how are you?” once. Ask twice – and listen to the response. And if you need support, don’t be afraid to speak up. 

 

The Mortgage Industry Mental Health Charter (MIMHC) – Working In Mortgages

Help and advice | Carers UK

 

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