Policies and practices that support carers are crucial to the resilience and success of our business. However, it is not only carers who need support – managers need to be aware of the issues working carers face, and to understand what is available to balance the needs of the business with those of the carer and other members of their teams. It is about knowing your employees and working flexibly with them to find solutions. At Centrica we strive to provide practical and sustainable ways to support carers and their managers.
Ian Peters, Former Director of Customer Facing Strategy at Centrica, parent company of British Gas, and Chair of Employers for Carers
Centrica forecasts that 60% of its 36,000-strong workforce will also be carers during their working lives and has led on innovative family friendly and flexible working practices and in 2004 was one of the first employers to set up a carers’ network.
The company has recently won the Championing an Ageing Workforce Award in the Responsible Business Awards for a policy that includes up to a month's paid leave for carers, along with flexible working hours and access to its 1,000-strong employee led carers' support network.
Centrica's Carers’ Policy has been running for a decade and it remains one of only a few large companies to offer paid leave for carers. Close friends, as well as family members, who are primary carers are included in the scheme.
Employees tend to take a couple of days at a time, for instance to attend hospital appointments. They can take longer periods for such responsibilities as nursing someone after a serious illness. Half the time is taken as carers' leave, half the time as annual holiday.
Centrica believes that there is a direct link between engagement, performance and retention. By supporting carers, the company has engaged and retained the high quality knowledge, skills and talent the organisation needs to thrive. It has saved an estimated £4.5 million a year in unplanned absenteeism and £2 million through retention.
Retaining niche skills in the workplace when employees have caring responsibilities is increasingly important. For example, Centrica has 13,000 engineers and have invested 2 years training in - losing them has a big economic impact.
In addition to direct support for carers, the programme includes line manager training and the development of a mentoring scheme. Centrica launched a pilot training programme to up-skill line managers in managing flexible workers and in particular people with caring responsibilities. The pilot has been a success, a key finding being that managers feel more confident about having effective conversations regarding caring. Centrica is now investigating a wider roll-out which would embed the training into existing line manager training modules. Through this, Centrica aims to develop behaviours which build an inclusive and carer friendly working environment.
Centrica works closely with Carers UK and is an integral part of the leadership group of Employers for Carers.
Centrica was also one of the first organisations to adopt Carers UK's Jointly app to help its employees coordinate care for a loved one, purchasing 1,000 licences for the app. The company has also been involved in trialling Carers UK’s e-learning resource, 'About Me: Building Resilience for Caring', which was offered to its employees who are carers.
Ian Peters concludes: “It’s more than flexibility but that’s at the core of it. If you have the right approach around empathy, flexibility and advice, you can improve your employer proposition. It translates to less absence because people have the right flexible structure so don’t need to take unpaid leave and very high commitment levels”.
In practice: An installation engineer for British Gas for 25 years cares for his six year old daughter, who has learning difficulties (Downs Syndrome). He also has two other young children. Her condition means that there are extra medical concerns requiring tests, for example, her hearing and sight. Hospital appointments are always during working hours and often held at short notice.
His manager allows him to organise his work around the customers. Early starts, which suit many customers, allow him time off later on in the day to be with his daughter. Working in a two man team means that they share the work between them. His colleague covers for him when he needs the time and they make it work between them. He can also take short notice holiday when required.