Millennials have often been dubbed the snowflake generation, but set aside anything you’ve heard about this group (who may, or may not, like to take photos of their avo’ for the ‘gram) and let’s consider a hidden section of their CV; their life as a carer. And an unpaid one at that.

Let’s start from the beginning and define who is a millennial carer? Simply put – anyone who was born between 1981 and 1996, providing unpaid help or care for a loved one. They could be looking after a parent, partner, child, elderly relative or friend. Some could even be caring for more than one person.

Employees providing unpaid care are on the rise

In the UK alone, 1.5 million people of working age are providing care for loved ones with cancer – just cancer at work. When we look at employee-carers for people with long-term illnesses, we are looking at figures in the region of 3 million, with a quarter being millennials.

Taking on caring responsibilities may be expected if a loved one has been struggling with an illness, or it could be rather sudden – perhaps as a result of an accident or an unexpected diagnosis or even Covid-19.

This generation is now dominating the modern workplace in terms of numbers and these are making their way to becoming tomorrow’s leaders. So how does this additional caregiver role affect your employees?

A juggling act

Millennial carers are having to co-ordinate other aspects of their own lives. People in their 20s and 30s may be starting their own families, developing personal relationships and social lives, progressing within their work and building a home. Providing care can take many forms and it’s likely they don’t consider themselves to be a carer – they’re simply doing their bit to help.

Help could be delivered:

Millennial carers support

And for most of the time, this help and assistance is unpaid. It’s believed that in many cases the hours provided by carers equate to the same amount of time as working a second full-time job.

The burden of meeting these demands could impact the dedication and time they can spend on other parts of their lives – say, work – because they don’t have the capacity or mental space to give 100% to both.

But, why should this concern you as an employer?

Somewhere amongst this often-demanding responsibility, they need the support and understanding to be able keep up with and grow in their job role.

Read our hr checklist for supporting employee carers

Is caring hurting career prospects for millennials?

With this additional responsibility, their career and promotion prospects are at risk. Finding the time to develop and progress into leadership roles may not fit into their schedule but this generation will become the leaders of the future.

You’re already investing time, training and much more into your millennial employees but if your benefit provisions aren’t adapted to recognise and help them in their challenges then you risk losing this talent.

Over 2.6 million people have given up work at some point to care for loved ones, almost 1 in 4 have had to change their working pattern to care and 2 million have reduced their working hours.

Training, CPD and progression.

Time away to attend training courses may be a severe no-go, whilst having the flexibility to stay late for meetings or deadlines simply won’t work when they have dinner or medication to deliver on their way home. They may be unable to increase working hours or accept a promotion which will require additional flexibility and impact on their caring role.

How can you help?

  • Ensure personal development plans are inclusive to your entire workforce, so carers aren’t missing out on opportunities.
  • Appraise objectives and performance targets regularly so they work around their needs and constraints.
  • Focus on short term objectives to give them a better sense of achievement.
  • Find out what their ambitions are and develop a plan for career progression
  • Above all be aware and be flexible

These steps and ideas will enable both parties to collaborate on a plan which suits both employer and employee.

Wellbeing matters

Providing care can be unexpected or irregular. Not only could you be a resource down at a moment’s notice but it can also negatively impact an employee’s mental wellbeing. Over time you may spot an increase in absence or using annual leave on a regular or last-minute basis to help with appointments. This may damage how they are perceived in the workplace.

Carers often forget to check-in with themselves on how they are feeling and coping. Naturally, overwhelming feelings of stress can lead to potential burnout – in turn affecting them and the wider team who end up having to pick up their role and tasks. 84% percent of carers surveyed for the State of Caring Survey said that caring has had a negative impact on their health, an increase of 74% from the previous year.

The NHS website says, “Unpaid carers who provide high levels of care for sick, or disabled relatives and friends, are more than twice as likely to suffer from poor health compared to people without caring responsibilities.”

Carers may neglect their own health with no time for exercise, doctors’ visits if they feel unwell, and impacts on their own social and personal lives.

It could also be affecting them in a more practical element, such as suffering from back issues if their caring involves lifting and carrying someone or using their lunch break to run errands. The knock-on of all of these could mean struggles with concentrating or making decisions at work, as well as feeling physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted – largely affecting workplace productivity.

Not too sure how caring could impact mental wellbeing?

Making positive policies

The growing number of carers isn’t slowing down anytime soon, especially with Covid-19. Looking after millennial carers shouldn’t be a strategic tick in your HR policy or wellbeing strategy. Instead, you should respond and adapt to evolving employee health needs, incorporating them into your inclusive culture and social responsibility of the organisation.

Remember, they won’t always want to come to you if they’re struggling so why not address some of the concerns they may have by including a carer community  within your HR policies? Utilise the benefits you already have and assess if there are gaps in the support you currently offer. If you’re unsure, simply ask for feedback from your team – this may be especially helpful during these times of remote working where you can’t physically keep an eye on how your team are doing.

As we have seen over the past few months, flexible working has been a key element in the response many companies have had to establish and normalise to as a result of Covid-19. Forward-thinking employers show a willingness to tailor policies and practices around employee carers, such as offering flexible working hours, paid leave or reduced hours to enable them to meet all demands within their schedule.

How can you help millennial carers?

Employee health needs are changing, and they will continue to do so, especially given that the carer population isn’t static. 1 in 7 are juggling work and caring and this number will rise.

Carers tend to self-sacrifice their career prospects and wellbeing to provide care, but who’s caring for them?

Organisations need to create the right environment for carers to be able to cope with their situation and thrive in the workplace.

Millennials are a powerful generation whose talent will be in high demand. Allowing them the time to work their role and development around their home lives will help levels of engagement, productivity and wellbeing.

Retain, develop and promote this generation into becoming tomorrow’s leaders.

Let’s put the spotlight on these hidden heroes.

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