If you would like to listen to the podcast version of this post, please click here
Welcome to the Carers’ Hearts blog post.
This week I am exploring how you can start or continue a conversation with your line manager or employer about being a working carer; why it is important to have that conversation for both of you, even if it might seem daunting, and some suggestions and resources to prepare, which will help to reduce negative thoughts and feelings, give you more confidence and hopefully, result in a positive outcome for you and them.
In the blog on 5 August 2020, I explored carer identity and why it can be of significant benefit, both in terms of practical support, as well as for your emotional wellbeing, to self-identify as an unpaid or working carer. So, please do go back and read that article, or listen to the podcast version, as well, as I go into much more detail about self-identity.
In this post, I am focusing more on the social identity part of the caring role, as this has a significant impact on being a working carer. Being an employee means you are part of a larger social group and your place in it can change when we take on the role or roles, of being an unpaid carer for a family member or loved one. Navigating this particular part of the caring journey, whether it is at the beginning when you are planning for future responsibilities, or as a result of a sudden change in circumstances, can be one of the larger challenges to overcome, for a variety of reasons.
Organisations such as Carers UK have a huge amount of information and guidance on the practical approaches to speaking with your employer about being a working carer and I have attached several of their brilliant guides in the resources section below. Knowing your rights in the workplace, as well the external support you might be entitled to, such as knowing how to access a Carers Assessment should be the first step in your planning process.
Next is being aware of what is available to you in your organisation. As I mentioned in the August post, some companies can offer flexible working, career breaks or even a Carer’s Passport, to support you moving roles in the future, so you can continue to develop your career.
However, actually starting and having that conversation itself, can the point at which a lot of working carers stop, as they fear the reactions of their line manager or boss and, often mistakenly, assume that the response will be negative and potentially have a detrimental impact on their job or career.
There are two pathways to preparing for that conversation, the first, as mentioned above, is to ensure that you are informed about what legally you are entitled to in your workplace, as some industries have specific legal requirements and what is currently available in your particular organisation.
Once you are informed about these practical details, which are an essential as part of the planning stage, then you can prepare for the and psychological part of having ‘that’ conversation!
The first part of this next phase really starts with whether you consider yourself as an unpaid or working carer, or not. As I discuss in the August post/podcast, until you self-identify as a carer, then any progress towards securing assistance and support, and that includes from employers, is almost impossible. I know from my own experience, that I didn’t self-identify as a carer for at least two yearsbefore events almost forced me to. So, for that time in a really demanding, but rewarding career, not only did I miss out on starting the process of seeking emotional support, but I also didn’t disclose I was a carer at work, which meant I missed the opportunity of making my own life a bit easier there, DOH!
So, if you do not consider yourself as a caregiver at the moment, I would strongly advocate that you start the process of identifying support and resources to help you with this first stage. Please reach out to us, either Lorna or I would be more than pleased to spend some time with you talking through this sometimes emotive topic, if it will help you to move forward to the next stage of the process, preparing for the conversation.
The next stage will start to lay the foundations for approaching your line manager or boss by thinking about your circumstances and exactly what it is you need to happen for you to be able to perform the best you can in your role, AND carry out the activities needed to fulfil your caring role. If you do not have a clear idea of this, when you come to have the conversation with your line manager, it is unlikely you will be able articulate to them the practical challenges you face i.e. attending numerous medical appointments or having to leave work at short notice if your loved one has had an accident or incident at school, as well as any emotional problems you are experiencing, which will mean the meeting might not be particularly useful for you or them.
To give your managers a fighting chance of being able to help and support you, you need to take responsibility for your part of the conversation why having considered what it is you are actually talking to them about!
Do you need to work more flexibility? If so, why and how?
Do you need some unpaid time out to care for a loved one who is having a significant operation? If so, for how long? Could you work from home for some of that time?
Do you need to drop the hours you are working to be able to balance activities which require you to be somewhere at a certain time? If so, how many hours and over how many days?
The number of examples I could share here are enormous, different for everyone, but I think you get the idea.
One caveat with knowing what it is that you want, or need is, that it genuinely might not be possible. So, be realistic and go into the meeting with an open mind to the fact that you might need to make some compromises, as well as your employer, such as:
- Moving to another role temporarily, which makes flexible or part-time working more realistic for you both.
- Reducing hours, which might mean less responsibility for a while, but that would be best for your team.
- Shifting to home working, where you can remove travelling time, so overall you can retain your existing hours but would mean being away from the emotional support of working closely with colleagues.
Considering options like these ahead of having the conversation isn’t about being defeatist and assuming it is pointless even having the conversation in the first place. It is about being realistic and flexible, which gives you and your employer maximum opportunities to discuss and identify the best options for you both.
Next step, once you are clear on what it is you need, is to think about howyou are going to approach your manager.
When I get nervous about speaking to someone, particularly when I think there is even the slightest chance of confrontation, due to my Dyslexia I get a physical tightening in my throat and I find it very difficult to speak, without stumbling over my words and feeling like I am going to chock! Which, if you knew me, seems really odd, as having spent over 2 decades as a police officer when confrontation was a major part of my role as a junior officer! However, for some reason it didn’t happen at those times, now I know more about the psychology of communication and my neurodiversity, I am sure it is because in the heat of the moment when I was running towards a dangerous or difficult situation, my brain didn’t consider the outcomes, I just did it, then thought about what happened later.
So, now when I am planning to have a conversation which, when I think about it, starts to generate some physical feelings, raised heart rate, sweaty palms (eww!), I know that to give myself the best chance of saying what I want to say, clearly and without too much emotion, I need to think it out carefully beforehand. Even to the point of writing it down and practising it. Now, I have never taken a piece of paper into a meeting with a senior officer and read from it, just so I could sound more confident! But I have had the piece of paper in my pocket, knowing that I am comfortable about what I want to say and why. Did all those conversations end as I had hoped? No, but most did.
Another important aspect to consider is that you are a valued member of their organisation and I am sure they wouldn’t want to you to leave because they hadn’t had the chance to consider options to support you. In the August 2020 blog post, I mentioned some figures about the cost to organisations of losing staff, it is about a year’s salary, in having to recruit, onboard and train a replacement for you. But for most organisations, it is more than just the financial element. Most employers genuinely want to keep and support their employees, so think about the benefit to the organisation in you being able to stay as well, just worth keeping that in.
For you, this could mean preparing by emailing your manager to arrange the appointment to speak with them and outlining the reason why you would like to have the opportunity of a meeting. This may prevent them from making assumptions about why you want to see them, and particularly if they are busy (who isn’t!) even allows them to prepare in advance, so they have the information they might need to discuss with you at hand.
Think about the email, draft it out, BUT don’t send it yet.
Then revisit it and read it aloud to yourself and imagine you are the manager receiving it and think about how does it read? Is it clear or does it contain too many details that it will take them 20 minutes to read it, because they probably won’t? So, make it just long enough for them to be able to mentally prepare for the conversation too. You never know, they could be like me and be uncomfortable in situations that might be tense, so give yourself the best conditions for a positive outcome and allow them the opportunity to prepare. If you feel that you are going to be really nervous, then ask if you can bring a colleague with you, perhaps someone who also a working carer, or someone who you trust.
So, the last phase, ‘the meeting’!
If you have planned and considered what you want to say.
If you go into the meeting from a place of confidence but also compromise.
If you listen to what the manager is saying, rather than assuming the outcome and missing an opportunity to negotiate.
Then there is every reason to believe that it will be a positive experience. Even if you don’t get the exact outcome you want, right now, it has started an important communication pathway, that may lead to it in the future. The manager is now fully aware of the enormous personal challenges you are facing and allows them to think differently about how to support you, and that has to be a good thing!
As you move forward, either when planning and preparing for the meeting or if you are just carrying on in your role, but would like additional support, your old friend guilt isn’t going to be far away!!
- Guilt about letting your manager down when they are really busy
- Guilt about letting your team down, when they need you the most
- Guilt about STILL not being with your loved one as much as they need
- Guilt because….well you just feel guilty!
As I explored in the blog post and podcast on the 15 September 2020, about the emotion of guilt, it is one of the most prevalent emotions carers have to deal with and manage and this situation is no different. I shared some useful and evidence-based activities and exercises in that post, please do go back and try them. I do all of them, at different times, and know it is definitely helping me to unhook myself from this debilitating emotion.
However, that’s the bad news, there is also some good news!
In addition, to hopefully being able to work with your employer to create a sustainable working v carer balance, you are also likely to experience more happiness and job satisfaction! Knowing that you don’t have to worry about trying to explain to your manager when you have an urgent appointment or dipping out of a meeting early due to an urgent call from your child’s school, paves the way for you to dial back the guilt, produce your normal high standard of work and enjoy the benefits that continuing in the workplace can bring.
Good luck and remember we are here if you would like to talk through the process or even practice the ‘conversation’!
The theme in February will be two aspects of unpaid caring that are the subject of research at the moment. The next episode and first topic “What is carer Stress Syndrome, how to recognise it and manage it” will be published on 3 February. In this episode, we will explore what the terminology means, how it can affect your physical and psychological wellbeing and some activities and exercises to manage it. Then on the 17 February, we will explore “What is compassion fatigue and how it could affect unpaid and working carers”.
Thank you so much for reading this blog post. We hope you found it interesting and useful, that you can join us again next time and remember, what a special thing it is that you do.
Resources for Employers
Carers UK and Carers Trust Resources
Worth caring about
Hogg, Michael A. and Dominic Abrams. (1988). Social Identifications: A Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations and Group Processes. London: Routledge.
Stets, J., & Burke, P. (2000). Identity Theory and Social Identity Theory. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63(3), 224-237. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/269587
Music Composed by Michael Coltham – Black Lab Music
Black Lab Music