Stat of the month: unconscious bias in flexible working

By Angela Matthews

A recent Australian report by Symmetra called The Conundrum of Workplace Flexibility shows the unconscious bias that is sometimes present towards employees who take up flexible working patterns.

Unconscious bias against flexible workers can have an indirectly discriminatory impact on many aspects of equality in the workplace, but it should be noted how key flexible working has been shown to be to disabled workers as a common reasonable adjustment. In the Life Opportunities Survey 2009/11, we saw that 60 per cent of disabled people who were not employed because of their disability said that flexible working is one of the adjustments that would help them work, and almost 50 per cent of disabled people in work said that flexible working hours have helped them to stay in their jobs. We also saw in CBI’s 2013 Absence in the Workplace Health Survey that flexible working was the most common adjustment, used by 82 per cent of respondents.

This is another example of how negative presumptions can have a discriminatory impact – especially regarding such a common reasonable adjustment for an employee with a disability or long-term health condition.

Stat of the day: Mental health in older age

By Angela Matthews

The World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to consider age and disability – particularly mental health in older age.

The WHO gives examples of factors in age that may impact and/or contribute to disability or long-term conditions. These examples include that for those who already have a disability when they reach older age (which, I’m afraid, the WHO considers to be anyone over the age of 60), limited mobility and pain can increase. For others, a number of social factors can feature – grief and bereavement or reduced income due to retirement, for example. The WHO warn that such factors can lead to isolation and loss of independence. What evidence do statistics give for this? (Note: The following represent disability worldwide.)

  • 20 per cent of older people have a mental health or neurological condition – the two most common being depression and dementia. This accounts for almost 7 per cent of older people’s disabilities;
  • Anxiety affects almost 4 per cent of people over 60;
  • Depression affects 7 per cent of people over 60;
  • 25 per cent of all deaths by self-harm are of people over the age of 60.

The WHO also notes that those with heart disease have higher rates of depression. This is an important observation on the relationship between mental and physical health and how, where a mental health condition such as depression goes untreated or is not given the appropriate attention, the positive or ‘successful’ outcome of the physical condition can be limited.

One of the WHO’s recommendations for trying to prevent mental health problems in older age is to encourage “active and healthy ageing” which, they say, should allow for integrated and balanced lifestyles. As there are an increasing number of people in the UK who remain in employment much beyond the age of 60, it is worth employers considering how their own policies and practices may be affected by older workers requesting to work flexibly to help achieve a better work/life balance. From next year, flexible working rights will be extended to allow anyone to make a flexible working request (i.e. not just those with parenting or caring responsibilities). How this will be managed by employers, or if there will be any increase in requests from older workers at all, we are yet to see.

Stat of the day: Supporting working carers

By Angela Matthews

Today’s stats are from the recent report, “Supporting Working Carers: The Benefits to Families, Business and the Economy.” This report was published on August 27th.

There are 5.4 million unpaid carers in England. Of this number, 3 million balance employment with their care commitments. The figure that the press have been keen on is that 315,000 carers of working age have left employment – and remain unemployed – because of care commitments, and this costs the economy £1.3 billion per year.

The message that has come from qualitative research with carers is that employers are generally sympathetic – but this sympathy has not often turned into active support. Despite the large number of carers being in work, only 1 in 5 employers have carers policies in place. The Government are recognising that there needs to be improved joint consideration and effort from both employers to provide support and also from support services (such as day centres, for example).

Another economic problem created by this situation is that it tends to be people aged between 40-54 that are among the 315,000 who are giving up work to care. The report says that this is a huge loss of talent from people at the peak of their careers, with employers having already invested a lot of training and resources into their development. When their care commitment ends, they then find it difficult to get back into employment. This, in turn, has an impact on Job Seekers Allowance claims, and can also lead to financial hardship later in life.

Perhaps significant for us is that one of the report’s recommendations is for the Department of Health to encourage organisations to become members of Employers for Care. The report also urges the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) to do more to raise awareness of working carers.