The PhD Abstracts below were published in MSo Volumes 6, 7 & 8.

Caring and working

A hermeneutic phenomenological study exploring the experiences of working-age male family carers
Dr Linda Birt, University of East Anglia

Research aims
Over 1.25 million men in the UK are juggling employment with caregiving yet their experiences remain relatively unexplored. An in-depth knowledge of how working-age men experience the competing obligations of caregiving and employment is warranted as government initiatives encourage carers to remain in employment. 
As male carers may experience caregiving in distinctly different ways to their female counterparts, this study aimed to capture how male carers experienced and gave meaning to a traditional feminine occupation, whilst also being of an age where their communities and the government might expect them to have a responsibility to be in paid employment.

A purposive sample of thirteen working-age male carers participated in semi-structured interviews. All were the main carer for their wife, adult child or mother; seven were in paid employment. 
A hermeneutic phenomenological design recognised that caregiving occurs within a complex web of social relationships with cultural norms shaping the meaning of experiences. The design enabled the phenomenon to be captured as perceived by participants, whilst also acknowledging the researcher brings subjectivities to the study. Recognising the potential limits of single-point conversational interviews, an innovative methodology was used where a first-person narrative was developed from the first interview. During a second interview, this narrative provided a platform to gain additive data and share emerging meanings, leading to richer, more experiential data.

Thematic analysis led to three themes. Trustworthiness in the results was enhanced by participant and peer validation.
1. Being a Carer- explored the negotiated nature of family caregiving. On becoming carers participants made complex decisions about whether or not they should stay in the caregiving situation. These decisions were embedded within a sense of duty to care for family, but justified through a concept of being the 'best' person to provide such care. They reached junctures where they were faced with further decisions about whether to stay in or leave paid work. Decisions to leave employment were influenced by concerns for the safety of their relative, but tempered by concerns for their financial security. 
2. Obligated Time - captured the meaning of time for these male carers. They structured their time in particular work-related ways with caregiving being framed as 'alternative work'. There was a sense of achievement from learning new skills, leading participants to value the domestic work they were obligated to undertake. All found their use of time constrained by the demands of their employment, and the needs of the care-receiver and health and social care providers. They used strategies to manage their time and so discharge their obligations effectively, thereby promoting their physical and mental well-being. However, not all were able to take control of how their time was used and these men appeared engulfed by their carer role and also by their employment responsibilities.
3. Self as Carer; Reworking Identities - explored the unease and discontinuity between participants' identity as a father, son or husband and carer. The role of carer could become all-consuming leaving space for no other identity. Nonetheless some embraced the identity of carer, developing new identities within carer support groups. Others accepted they were carers, but still felt uneasy with this new identity and the way in which being a carer affected their relationship with their wife. Employment provided a defined identity of a man who could provide financially for his relative. However, concessions were made about the type of employment which could be undertaken, and these impacted on the participants' sense of being a man with a career. Those men who had left employment spoke of caregiving as a form of work and constructed an identity of a carer at work.  

This thesis provides a range of evidence identifying that care work undertaken by men and their employed work is not necessarily a separate domain of experience, but is intertwined and purposefully informs each other. 
Internally and externally imposed obligations and personal incentives arise at different stages of the carer career and have to be negotiated for care work to be experienced as manageable and acceptable. Perceived and structural disincentives to disclose a caregiver identity may constrain male carers' abilities to combine caregiving with employment. 
By conceptualising care as legitimate work, a deeper understanding becomes possible of how men may make the transition from employee to carer whilst still maintaining a self-identity they find acceptable. The transfer of management and practical skills from employment into their unpaid carer work enables the utilisation of skills developed in paid work. Making this visible may support male carers to see some direct transference of skills, instilling a sense of greater expertise in their new care work. Through understanding the ways in which men experience care as work, service providers may be better equipped to support pre-retirement men as they undertake the new job of carer.

Dr Linda Birt, University of East Anglia

See Older Posts...

Abstracts are published here as provided by the author and in the order in which we receive them.