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When work-life balance is the norm not the exception

This opinion piece is about 7 years old

Having an empathetic employer means James Cunningham has been able to bringing up a disabled daughter as well as continue working full time

Looking after a disabled child is something that is just part of my life. I don’t think of having it any other way. For my wife Jaqueline and I, this is normal. And we just get on with it.

Nicola has Jacobson Syndrome – a rare genetic disorder that affects her physically and mentally. She is now an adult of 25 although she has a mental age of around five or six, meaning we have to do most things for her. As such she has very involved care needs. Jaqueline works three days a week and I work five so we have to work around care provision. We also have a carer to look after Nicola every day.

Care is always a factor. We just accept Nicola’s care is always going to be part of our lives. We have three other children but Nicola is the main priority in everything we do; it always has been. Of course that comes at a price: it’s tiring and some days I don’t realise how tired I am until I finally get to relax. Caring is also a pressure and a worry: you worry about the future, about support, about respite.

As Nicola has got older she has become able to do some tasks for herself. She’s developed more common sense and is able to do more adult tasks. She feeds herself now and is mobile around the house. That’s a huge help. It means Jaqueline and I have become more independent as a consequence where before, in her younger years, we has to literally do everything for her from clothing her to feeding her.

I’ve worked for Standard Life in Edinburgh since 1999 and that has made all the difference to our care provision. I can’t emphasise enough how important an empathetic employer is to bringing up a child with intensive care needs. And Standard Life has been brilliant. If we need time off we get it, and we’ve always been able to have flexible working patterns to be there for Nicola when we need to be.

We just couldn’t keep down jobs otherwise. As everyone who has young children can appreciate care needs come first, work comes second, so it is a huge bonus both Jaqueline and I have been able to hold down jobs while bringing up a child who requires intensive care support.

It also gives us respite. Many carers are housebound alongside those they care for because they have to be there 24/7. Work gives Jaqueline and I respite to have normal lives, to meet other people so work has always been more than just a salary for us.

Standard Life goes out its way to support staff from whatever background they come from

As Nicola’s care was more important in her younger days, I had to change my hours a number of times to accommodate her care and our employer has never seen this as a problem. Standard Life is not only proactive in terms of the care needs of its staff, it has policies in place for everyone. Standard Life goes out its way to support staff from whatever background they come from.

Carers Leave has been a boon. Effectively it means we don’t need to eat into annual leave when we need to take Nicola for a hospital appointment, for example. That’s huge: it means our holidays are our holidays – time we can use at our leisure not for necessities. Sometimes I feel guilty about claiming these days but I tell myself they are there for a purpose and the policy really helps us as a family.

Unfortunately there are thousands of families in a similar position as us who don’t have such empathetic employers. Yet our bosses don’t actually have to do much. It’s not really about getting time off or special treatment. All that is really required is a flexible approach to hours and some understanding. Most of this can be achieved through standard flexitime which many employers work round as part of childcare obligations.

So carers don’t actually needs any special treatment. Just a few reasonable adjustments to allow us to lead normal lives like everyone else.



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almost 7 years ago
It's vital to carers to have employers with a flexible approach like this. However, I want to cry when I hear that for carers working is actually seen as 'respite', where for most others time away from work is seen as a break. It's clear carers need more support in order to change that perspective and to lead a more balanced life.
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