Carers in the workplace are often unaware they are carers and don’t identify as such.

In fact, it is often not until a crisis has occurred that the penny drops, and they realise just how much responsibility they carry for the care and wellbeing of that special person in their life who is vulnerable, and who relies on them for help and support.

It may take a crisis to get them to seek professional help and government support services. If you are a manager or work colleague, helping a person recognise that they are a carer and encouraging them to establish links with services and support networks BEFORE a crisis hits makes good sense and is the best thing you can do for them.

Self-recognition is equally important and if you are in a caring role but haven’t quite realised that you are in fact a carer, maybe it is time to embrace that role more consciously and reach out and make the connections with the support services that will become your lifeline in any future crisis.

Research suggests that working carers are predominantly middle-aged women (who are skilled and experienced workers). These are the people who are shouldering most of burden of aged care in Australia today.

Not only are they working in a dual role – juggling paid employment with their caring responsibilities – but they are feeling pressured to remain in the workforce to alleviate the skilled workforce shortage, as well as needing to have enough money to meet the needs of the person for whom they are caring.

This means they might be living and working under enormous stress, with no special considerations being given to them at work, and with no-one having any idea that they are a working carer with significant responsibilities outside of their paid role.

Some workplace flexibility, consideration and understanding, will go a long way in making them feel valued and better able to cope with the competing demands of their work and home lives.

What insights can we gain into the working carers life?

Here are some comments by working carers themselves, taken from the carer issues report ‘Two Hats’ by the Southern Services Reform Group.

SUE loves her job, it gives her a break from the caring role and it makes her feel valued and fulfilled. She also acknowledges that she needs to look after herself and a yearly holiday is essential, now that it is affordable. Switching roles from carer to worker is generally a smooth process with the adherence to a good routine, but the road is not always easy. Her manager is flexible and understanding and she feels supported by colleagues. Sue gives a smile and says “work keeps me sane!”

JULIE praises her workplace for acknowledging her caring responsibilities and having ‘layers’ of leave entitlements that she is able to access when required to do so – carers leave, sick leave and annual leave. Furthermore, she commends them for not insisting that she justify why she is requiring leave or being made to feel obliged to tell her story yet again.

STACEY sometimes has to leave work early because her father needs her. Guilt has been an issue and she has sometimes felt that she is letting work colleagues down and isn’t sure they understand the demands being placed on her as a carer. The positive aspects of working are numerous and Stacey says: “If I was only caring I would go mad!” She feels that working helps her psychological wellbeing and helps financially. Without it her self-esteem would suffer greatly. Stacey says she has grown and matured as a person. She now values things that others take for granted; she is flexible and doesn’t stress over the small things. She feels she has developed the ability to prioritise and be resilient – she won’t be beaten. She will keep trying until the task is done.

DAVID says it is important to have flexibility in work times, and the confidence to ask for it. “It’s so important to have an employer who understands the demands of the role and to share the caring role, including support from work colleagues. It’s important to know that work is covered and I am not feeling like I’m letting anyone down.”

To read more about the Southern Services Reform Group and their current priorities of Aged Care Reforms; Wellness and Reablement; Research to inform best practice; and Ageing and Technology visit: www.ssrg.org.au