Career coach: Take care of your carers policy

The cost of not doing right by staff who care for family members could be high.

I spent much of 2007 looking after my 76-year-old mother, who suffered from a series of chronic symptoms brought on, I believe, by the distress of losing her best friend.

I'm happy to say that she is now considerably better. Support from a fine herbalist and generous dollops of tender loving care from me seem to have worked well. She's once again out with her mates at all the latest films and musicals and keeping the grey pound bouncing around.

I had an exhausting year, however, attempting to fulfil my work commitments, maintain some semblance of a social life and manage my own health, which took a battering from exhaustion, worry, lack of exercise and grabbing food on the run. I had a personal experience of what it's like to be a carer and it informed the coaching I give to chief executives who are carers themselves.

Three million people combine caring and working in the UK. The peak age for caring is between 45 and 64, when people have often acquired valuable skills and may be in senior positions within your organisation. If, as a chief executive or senior manager, you are not a carer yourself, it's possible that you are working alongside someone who is. Each day, 6,000 people take on new caring roles - so what do you have in place in your organisation to support you and your team, should you need to spend more time and energy with your families?

The Work and Families Act has been law for almost a year and gives carers the right to request flexible working conditions. If you haven't yet adopted such a policy, I would encourage you and your trustees to consider it as a matter of good practice, notwithstanding the fact that it is a legal requirement.

I suggest to chief executive carers that they should switch to part-time roles, a condensed week or working more from home in order to create the necessary time. These moments can be spent with the person you care for or to have a break from caring or working. The cost to your organisation in time, energy and money to replace you is likely to be a lot higher than it would be to create a more flexible working structure.

Carers UK has useful information on its website The resources available include a downloadable booklet for employers on the needs of carer employees as well as ideas that can help you develop policies and practices to support them.

- Amanda Falkson is a psychotherapist who runs monthly Tough at the Top groups for voluntary sector chief executives -

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