The overwhelming majority of carers, either living with or apart from the person they care for, want employers to show more flexibility toward their family circumstances. That is the conclusion of a wide-ranging survey carried out by family relationships charity Fastn.

Fastn polled 3,000 UK respondents who have been in their job for at least a year and asked them about how their families have changed, how supportive employers had been and what they would hope for from a future employer.

Only 9 per cent of carers who lived apart from the person they cared for said that employers gave explicit consideration for how decisions impact on family lives (14 per cent for those who live with the person they care for).

A recurring theme across all employees was the entrenched differentials between different groups of employees. For instance, those in higher and more secure positions felt their employers more likely to support their families to thrive.

Senior managers enjoyed working conditions they felt more conducive to their families thriving while those on zero hours contracts were least likely to say their employers considered to how workplace decisions impacted on family lives. Less than half agreed that their employer’s actions supported their family’s ability to thrive.

There was a similar trend in relation to expectations that managers would understand family pressures and seek to reduce these. Just 11 per cent of ‘manual-unskilled employees felt managers would understand their family circumstances, rising to 17 per cent among ‘junior managers’ and 25 per cent among ‘directors’.

The differential is significant in thinking through the kind of work that needs to be undertaken to support employers recognising the complex relationship between work and family life. However, it is also significant that only one in four ‘directors’ feel that their working lives accommodate concerns around family.

 

In short, for most people the workplace is free of family understanding and the pressures that life brings to bear. Yet, over 70 per cent of respondents said that their family situation had changed whilst in their current employment – one in three (32 per cent) said it had changed a lot.

Family change is a constant as is the lack of employer understanding of the pressures this can bring.

For instance, only 35 per cent of carers living apart from the person they cared for felt their employers gave them the flexibility to alter working hours without it having an impact on future working conditions or promotional prospects (37 per cent for carers living with the person they care for).

Carer employees clearly want better. When asked what would be most important to them when looking for future work, 77 per cent of carers (both living with and separately from the person they care for) said a track record supporting families to thrive was important. The average across all respondents was 69 per cent.

Almost four in five (79 per cent) of carers who lived apart from those they cared for said flexible working was important to them, and 82 per cent living with those they cared for said it was important. The average across all respondents was 78 per cent.

What these statistics do not tell us are the experiences of would-be employees who are carers but have been kept out or pushed out of the workplace by a lack of employer support for their particular family commitments.

Fastn believes that the government has an important role to play to support carers in the workplace.

However, employers could and should be doing much more to recognise both the diversity of family relationships amongst their employees and the impact their policies have on employees’ family lives.

Employers too have a vital role to make caring visible and valued. They can develop sustainable relationships with their employees that support families, in all their forms, to thrive.

Many employers may point out that they have quite enough to worry about just now without taking account of their employees’ home lives.

However, employment is a long-established public policy concern and the government’s support for businesses in the form of grants, loans and wage subsidies to see them through the pandemic lockdowns create space for a conversation at least about employers wider social role, including helping families to thrive.

Families at the very least need employers not to be a block to their thriving in these difficult times and wherever possible be an actual support. Government rightly concerns itself with the asks it makes of employers to rehire furloughed workers, nudging employers toward investment in skills and training, and supporting transitioning toward future green sustainable jobs.

Within this mix, there should be room for the government to help employers recognise that employees have family commitments as well as work commitments. The government has a ready-made policy framework to achieve this.

In 2014, the Department for Work and Pensions introduced a Family Test for use across government departments. The test offers departmental policymakers a simple framework through which to assess the impact of policy on families of whatever kind going through changing circumstances.

The Family Test should be applied systematically across government and it should be extended to employers as part of what will be decades-long government intervention in the post-pandemic economic recovery.

In this way, a sustainable economic recovery will be accompanied by policies that help families sustain and thrive.

Find out more about the survey here: