advocacy rules

The ever-growing sandwich generation, the cost of absence and the war for talent are combining to place increasing pressure on employers to offer tailored benefits packages – including ongoing and emergency support – to help manage absence and find and keep the best people.

Further public service cutbacks, our ageing society, disillusionment with elderly care services and the high cost of childcare are all contributing to a rising tide of UK employees who are struggling to juggle the demands of work and caring responsibilities – whether for children, their parents, grandparents or even sometimes all three.

This is leading to increased incidences of stress, illegitimate absence and even the exiting of many individuals from the workforce entirely, and well before retirement age, to become full-time carers.

Research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that, as things stand, more than 50,000 people in the UK will have to leave their jobs to care for relatives with dementia, and a further 60,000 have already made significant adjustments to their work, such as reducing working hours, the impact of which is currently costing UK businesses £1.6bn a year. And that is just for dementia care.

And things are only going to get worse. The Government’s 4-year plan to cut public spending by £20bn was published in November 2015. Spending on the NHS will be protected so this only means more cuts for social care.

Supply / demand mismatch

A news report published recently in The Guardian stated that if the growth in the numbers of older and disabled people is taken into account, an additional £1.1bn will be needed just to provide the same level of social care service as last year. Obviously that extra cash is not going to come from Government so more family members – probably working family members – will have to take up the role of carer.

Impact on business

Talent management is the current buzzword in business circles. In fact, a global annual survey of CEOs’ most pressing business challenges entitled The Conference Board CEO Challenge 2015 found that the attraction and retention of talent is the number one challenge on the minds of CEOs (10% higher than operational excellence).

And evidence shows that benefits really can make a difference. Nearly a quarter (24%) of employees have been influenced by the quality of benefits on offer when deciding to work for a company, up from 17% last year, according to PMI Health Group’s Employee Benefits Index 2015.

It’s also encouraging to see that employers are doing more to tailor their benefits to workforce requirements. The Employee Benefits Index also found that a quarter (25%) of respondents had been consulted over reward and benefit preferences. What’s more, two thirds of organisations (69%) now take into account the specific needs of employees with childcare and 64% consider employees with other caring responsibilities when designing their wellbeing approach, according to the CIPD Absence Management 2015 report

Illegitimate absence

All of these measures should go some way toward helping tackle the problem of short-term absence. Although the main causes continue to be minor illnesses and musculoskeletal injuries, non-genuine absence – otherwise known as ‘pulling a sickie’ – is on the rise with 30% of organsations responding to the CIPD’s survey reporting that non-genuine absence is one of their top causes of short-term absence for manual workers.

Preventative measures

However, evidence from the CIPD also shows that organisations offering flexible working and leave for family circumstances are less likely to report non-genuine absence in their top causes of absence (24% versus 35% who don’t offer flexible working to manage short term absence).

Leave for family circumstances (such as carer/emergency/dependant/compassionate leave) appears in the top five approaches to managing short-term absence with 73% of respondents using this method. Just over half (52%) focus on flexible working and 44% use Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs).

Times have changed and those employers who embrace advocacy as opposed to a traditional paternalistic approach to benefits will reap the rewards.