IRL: my story shows why worker-carers must be given new respect

Catherine Eadie says employers often miss the point about gaps in a carer’s CV – they’ll have learned invaluable skills as they were caring

The statistics are not in doubt. We all know it anecdotally, and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development confirmed in a recent report how many people are having to juggle roles as employees and careers, mostly in the unpaid/informal capacity.  

Today, I want to share just one experience of this, and the impact it can have. Remember the huge effect on carers’ own mental and physical health, as the role is unpredictable, fluctuating and at times erratic.

I mentioned in my first blog for Positively Scottish that I wasn’t engaged in the workplace until I was in my 30s.  My husband spent 15 years being an informal carer, which at times was very stressful for him.  

We became very used to each other’s company and, while we have a amazing relationship, looking back with hindsight it has profoundly hindered his career chances. His ability to gain valuable experience and learning opportunities meant his job roles have been unskilled, low-paid, and insecure. Friendships with others also suffered and we became very isolated.  

Just before I had had one of my worst breakdowns, during the festive season of 1997/98, he was working in retail, a job he’d managed to secure several months previously.

He was able to take a few days off here and there, but the stress of daily hospital visits took its toll so he tried part-time for a while. When I came out of hospital, the pressure was even greater and the constant worry about me and my safety meant that he had to leave and put that aside until I was better again.  He’d already had a gap in his work record between 1990-97.  

Five years later, and I was making progress by volunteering and studying at the Open University.  He managed to get back into work in 2006, but the limitations of what was available meant a low wage, short hours, and lack of progression.

In many respects, he’s been OK with this – after all, it’s all we’ve known. There has never really been a time where we haven’t required housing, financial and employment assistance, but I now find myself being the breadwinner, and only because I have been able to use my experiences to my advantage.  

During periods where I have been in  crisis, he’s experienced symptoms of stress that have manifested as physical symptoms e.g. digestive problems, lymph gland lumps, quincy and aches and pains.

The upside is that we live a simple life, we’re frugal when it comes to money and we’ve become experts at money-saving ideas and budgeting. We haven’t been able to move from our one-bedroom social housing flat and secure a mortgage.  

We’ve never considered travelling abroad and, although we chose not to have children, in all honesty we wouldn’t have have been able to afford them and I was never well enough.  

Does all this matter? No, but what employers need to appreciate is that the gaps in someone’s employment history where ‘caring’ has been mentioned, or where there are simply significant gaps, shouldn’t cause alarm.  

On the contrary, the skills gained through caring periods are very much interpersonal, with valuable competencies such as compassion, empathy, patience, resilience, communication and even leadership.

As we’re going to be seeing ever more carers in the workplace, we must now embrace the flexibility and autonomy required to accommodate them, and value and appreciate the dual role they often have to undertake.

Catherine Eadie is the founding director of
MHScot Workplace Wellbeing CIC

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