More care and attention for informal carers

Tuesday 23 June 2020

‘We’re seeing people more and more as disposable products’

Supporting your mother who’s so anxious about the coronavirus she hardly dares to go outdoors. Helping your partner after a long illness. Or guiding your brother through psychological aid. More and more people are becoming informal carers and yet we hardly share these facts at the workplace. Aleid Brouwer, professor of applied sciences in Purposeful Entrepreneurship at NHL Stenden, recognises the situation, “There is still a taboo on informal care.”

The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics has calculated that by 2030, one in four employees in the Netherlands will be an informal carer. That means that practically every manager will have an informal carer in their team. “So it’s important that we are able to talk about these things openly and honestly at the workplace,” says professor Aleid Brouwer. “All too often I hear that informal carers find it difficult to tell their boss that they are caring from someone. They’re afraid their contract won’t be renewed or that the response will be negative, and yet being an informal carer is something very special.”


Brouwer herself cares for her father and knows from experience how nice it is if colleagues are aware of her work as an informal carer. “They don’t act surprised if I arrive a little later in the morning or leave earlier in the afternoon. Research indicates that honesty and understanding are essential to a good balance of work and private life. Quite simply because you would otherwise suffer under the pressure of having to perform at both work and in your private life.”

Disposable products

Complaints related to stress, depression or a burnout. These symptoms of structural overload affect ten percent of the 4.4 million people in the Netherlands that care for someone close, according to the Netherlands Institute for Social Research in 2018. “That’s just ridiculous,” says the professor. “We’re seeing people more and more as disposable products and yet it’s so important that companies look after their human capital. Particularly in shrinking regions like Friesland where the number of employed is falling.”

Think differently

Brouwer feels that managers need to change the way they think. “All too often, the thought is still ‘what is this going to cost me?’ When as a manager you actually need to look at things from a different perspective and consider what you can get out of supporting the informal carer as optimally as possible. The answer is obvious: first and foremost an employee who feels better about themselves and therefore performs better. And secondly, you prevent someone dropping out long term. Just work out how much that would otherwise cost you.”

For life

This way of rethinking falls within the scope of the Purposeful Entrepreneurship chair for which Brouwer helps small and medium-sized enterprises become more future-proof. And this includes placing more focus on the value of human capital. “Take Masterbakers in Hallum,” says Brouwer as an example. “When I spoke to their team leader about informal carers, he told me that the carers in Hallum, for instance, didn’t have to do night shifts – and that nobody complains about it. ‘We’ll cover that for each other’ was the response. That’s Purposeful Entrepreneurship! And it creates far more than can be expressed in financial terms. Those who treat their informal carers well, have an employee for life.

Aleid Brouwer is professor of applied sciences in Purposeful Entrepreneurship at NHL Stenden. Her chair helps small and medium-sized companies in the north find solutions to issues regarding ecosystems, sustainability, inclusivity and digitalisation.