BLOG: Supporting and connecting our staff who identify as carers
"One thing I have learnt over the years is that all carers value support and, particularly, respite. A break from caring. For some, work is respite."
A blog by Conor Curran, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Staff Wellbeing, People and Culture Directorate.
On Thursday 8 December 2022, 30 members of staff who identify as carers were treated by our Diversity and Inclusion Unit to a free Christmas lunch at Ryan’s bar on Belfast’s Lisburn Road.
For some, it was a chance to get dressed up, meet up, and indulge in the first of what could be many turkey dinners this month.
Celebrating Christmas with @QUBstaff who have caring responsibilities today.— @QUBEqualDiverse (@QUBEqualDiverse) December 8, 2022
Over 30 members of staff were treated to a free Christmas lunch today in Ryan's, Belfast.
Fantastic to get this dedicated group of staff together for some respite, food and craic. #LoveQUB pic.twitter.com/OQzd1cCw4U
For me, it was a valuable opportunity for staff, who are carers, to have a break during work hours to connect, bond, share stories and reflect on a challenging two years.
According to the latest research from Carers UK, 1 in 7 workers are now juggling work with caring. Half a million of them gave up work over the last two years in order to care, and two million carers have reduced their working hours.
At Queen’s, our 2022 Staff Pulse Survey (66% response rate) revealed that almost 1 in 5 (551) staff have caring responsibilities for a dependant older person or persons while 1 in 10 (255) look after a person or persons with a disability or disabilities.
That is a significant proportion of our workforce and probably just the tip of a large iceberg.
We also know that while many of our carers effectively balance home and work life, others find it a real challenge.
Such challenges can be personal and complex and, while there is no single fix or solution to any one person’s home or work life, as an employer, there are many things we can do to reduce that burden and to keep our staff engaged, connected and in work.
One thing I have learnt over the years is that all carers value support and, particularly, respite. A break from caring. For some, work is respite. To be able to leave home, travel to work and spend a few hours on campus with friends and colleagues. To have their own time and to feel connected to others, outside of the home.
This is why, two years previously (March 2020), and based on anecdotal feedback like this from carer’s at Queen’s, my Unit decided to try and develop a new staff network for Carers.
Unfortunately, our timing could not have been worse. Two weeks later, the Covid-19 pandemic had gripped the world and, as a result, any idea of establishing such a network was put on hold.
Most of us were told to work from home where possible, to socially distance, to shield the clinically vulnerable and, where infected with the virus, to self-isolate. For many carers ,however, such restrictions on movement were nothing new.
For many carers, particularly those who care for disabled children, partners or elderly relatives or friends with serious medical conditions, daily decisions have always involved ensuring they are on hand, at home, in hospital, or near loved ones.
For other carers, the Covid restrictions on movement and the new ways of living, working, shopping and communicating were a just another worry and burden on an already stressful way of life.
Feelings of detachment, isolation and self-protection were further heightened. Which is why, during the pandemic, myself, Dr Lisa Bradley (QUB Management School) and the team felt it was even more important to set up a remote network of Carers on Microsoft Teams.
It was with some trepidation then, on 23 March 2022, almost exactly two years since the public health/ work from home restrictions, that my team decided to bring our carers together in Riddell Hall for the first time.
That day marked the formal launch of the new Carers Network, CONNECT.
Taking place in the courtyard of Riddell Hall, it was an occasion to remember. As I welcomed and greeted colleagues, I noticed a palpable anxiety on faces.
Expressions which said: Should I be here? Should I wear a mask? Can we shake hands?
Mixed feelings. Nervousness. Shyness. But also excitement at being outside, away from home and “at work”, meeting new friends. As the morning went on, I was also struck by the smiles, laughter, volume of conversation and how many times I would hear someone say “Isn’t it great to be back, and meeting people".
In many respects, it was an important day.
It kickstarted conversations about the network, but it also took away a fear for many staff, who had become used to working from home. Suddenly, returning to campus wasn’t holding the fear so many thought it would.
It also allowed us to talk about how we further support carers at Queen’s, and it provided a launchpad for the University’s Carer’s Passport. This is basically an editable passport which is updated by the member of staff during the course of his/her employment at Queen’s to reflect their, often changing, caring responsibilities.
It is designed to make it easier for staff with caring roles to talk about the flexibility and support they need, enabling a two-way discussion about caring responsibilities and how they may impact on one’s work.
The Carer's Passport has been supported by a number of training sessions, for both staff and management, throughout the last 12 months – and a dedicated website with detailed information on how to complete the passport, with frequently asked questions and contact details for further advice.
The network is now finding its feet. Passports are being developed. Conversations are taking place.
As we look forward to 2023, one of the many workforce challenges we face is ensuring we embrace new flexible ways of working, maximise the benefits of agile working, and appreciate the needs faced by others, particularly those with caring or other responsibilities.
By doing so, we can enhance staff wellbeing and, in turn, benefit from a modern, inclusive, working environment where everyone feels visible, involved and rewarded for their contributions to life on campus.
Find out more about the Carer’s Passport, as well as information about CONNECT, the Carer’s Network at Queen’s University Belfast, on the People and Culture website.
To make an enquiry about joining CONNECT, email firstname.lastname@example.org