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Giving Employees Time Off To 'Care' Is Right - And Brave

16/05/2017 08:46
KatarzynaBialasiewicz via Getty Images

Giving employees time off to "care" is exactly the right thing for the Government to be doing. Brave as well.

There will be plenty of people that think a new "right to care" represents yet more mollycoddling from an interfering Government that will simply make life more difficult for businesses everywhere. They couldn't be more wrong. Here's why.

Firstly, more and more of us combine a career with a commitment for one, or often both, of our ageing parents. And let's not mention our in-laws. The world of work has changed immeasurably in the last 30 years. We work more flexibly; we're often in touch even when we are not in the office; and combining work and family is what most of us have to do on a day to day basis, with or without the help of employers or the Government.

Demographics have changed as well. People have children later; our parents are living longer; and the prospect of retiring happily ever after at 60 is a pipedream. The consequence is that the number of working carers is growing exponentially and is set to double in the next six years. Taking care of your family doesn't mean that you want to leave their careers behind for good. But knowing that they can, without penalty, is a bonus.

I am generally a fan of small Government and civil servants only getting involved in our increasingly complicated lives when they have to. But acknowledging the everyday reality is exactly where Government should take a lead. It's the same way the Government approached things with the introduction of Shared Parental Leave. They recognised the reality of shared parenting. They put in place light touch legislation. And they let the business world worry about how to implement it.

In part, the proposed legislation is a reflection of just how broken the UK's social care system is. When you become "dependent" and need somewhere between a little and a lot of support to carry on living a normal life, there is an expectation that the state will help. You've spent all your life working and paying taxes, surely there is some support in place. The answer, sadly, is that virtually nothing exists. It all comes down to your family members. Forcing employers to give employees time off the best way, and perhaps the only way, to fix the system.

The serious illness of a family member isn't something you can always plan around. Sometimes you don't get any notice. This unpaid time off will allow individuals the time and space they need to find long term solutions or simply give back to a family member in need.

Will businesses be able to cope with the new rights? Yes. It might be painful, but eventually businesses will get their heads round it all. Not everyone will take the option immediately, and businesses will have time to figure out how to make it work.

Remember there are unlikely to be any direct financial consequences of the new right to care. Instead business will have to find ways to allow people to take time off and come back into the workforce later. Exactly what they have had to do with maternity for the last 30 years.

The best businesses already recognise that employees need the flexibility to combine work and life. And good employers are already finding ways for their employees combine their work and family commitments, some are just further along than others.

New carers legislation will simply force more businesses to realise that flexible working can mean better working - for employer and employee alike. Employers who are already helping individuals to combine work and family are reaping the rewards, with more loyalty and more engagement.

Let's hope the bravery pays off.

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