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Carers and Flexible Work

This week, 13-19 October 2013, is Carers Week. Carers Week aims to increase recognition, support and appreciation of Australia's 2.6 million carers. It is an opportunity to learn more about carers, what they do and how you can support them.

A key issue for many carers is how to juggle their caring responsibilities with work, with more than 58% of carers being of working age. Most carers of working age combine their caring role with paid work (55%), and the majority of employed carers work full-time (63%).

However, with carers on average spending approximately 40 hours per week providing care, many working carers can benefit from flexible working arrangements.

In a recent ABC radio interview, Ara Cresswell, Chief Executive Officer of Carers Australia, talked about Australia’s ageing population and how soon people requiring care could outnumber family members who are working. Hence, it will be increasingly important to keep carers in the workforce both for the economy and for employers.

The peak age for caring is 45-64. It's also the age at which people are most highly skilled and most highly trained. It makes good business sense for employers to look at ways of retaining and recruiting carers.

Employers and managers can assist, not only by offering flexible working arrangements but also by avoiding making assumptions about carers, e.g., that they will be late for work or that their mind will not be on the job.

Here are some common myths about flexible work broken down:

Myth Response
Surely there is a huge cost of implementing flexible work options? Research shows that flexible work options can actually benefit your business by:
  • Reducing recruitment costs, absenteeism and turnover
  • Retaining experienced workers and those with caring responsibilities
  • Encouraging people at retirement age to continue working
  • Incorporating highly skilled workers who the organisation could not afford full time
  • Increasing diversity of the workforce
  • Increasing wellbeing and engagement of workers
What if I approve one application for flexible work - am I locked into approving all applications? Decisions about flexible work applications should be strategic, fair, transparent, and based on the individual merits of each application. No two situations are the same, so you may be saying ‘yes’ to one and ‘no’ to another. Business needs should always be considered. Remember that there may also be ways to meet needs apart from approving flexible work options.
It’s better if everyone works the same set of hours. Technology, changing demographic profiles and a shifting economic climate mean that traditional working arrangements may no longer be the best way to conduct a successful business. Outcomes, as opposed to time spent in the office may be a better way of measuring an employee’s commitment, and new technologies allow employees to work outside the traditional office environment.
With greater pressures to deliver better results with fewer resources, why should managers have to try to accommodate people’s personal lives? Flexible work arrangements may ensure retention of talented people and greater productivity of employees. It can contribute to a strong team and deliver a supportive culture. It also reduces the amount of sick leave taken.

The Equal Opportunity Commission is currently leading the Flexible Workplace Futures project is part of the Premier’s Public Sector Renewal Program and aims to improve flexible work practices and culture in the public sector. The project will trial a number of new and innovative flexible work tools including education and training, an ‘app’ to assist managers to manage flexibly working teams, an electronic application form, and a tool kit of best practice.

The Equal Opportunity Commission can also take complaints about caring responsibilities discrimination. Caring responsibilities discrimination is treating people unfairly because they have a responsibility to care for a dependent child or for an immediate family member who is in need of care and support. Find out more using the links below.

Anne Gale
Commissioner for Equal Opportunity

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