Centrica beat fierce competition to win the Best for Carers and Eldercare award at the 2015 Working Families' Top Employers for Working Families Special Awards. Read more about its winning strategy below.
Organisations are increasingly realising that having caring responsibilities doesn’t just mean having children. In fact, thanks to the UK’s rapidly ageing population, many employees are likely to find themselves caring for older relatives and friends.
Energy company Centrica is ahead of the curve when it comes to this agenda. Its carers network has been active since 2005. According to Centrica’s group head of HR policy and diversity Alison Hughes, the main reason for the network’s longevity is the fact that “it is truly employee-led”. “There’s a genuine need for it and it has stood the test of time,” she adds.
While the network is grassroots, senior sponsorship from the MD of British Gas also helps – with Hughes pointing out that having a “business sponsor, not an HR sponsor” can also be more effective.
In addition to the network, Centrica offers a carer’s leave policy, whereby it offers up to one month matched paid leave per year to those with caring responsibilities. And crucially, the policy includes close friends as well as family members.
According to Hughes, embracing flexible working more widely can be just as helpful as allowing carers a full month off, as many would prefer to be spending some time at work. “I was quite surprised that while the leave is important, so is flexible working,” she recalls. “Carers don’t always want time away. Some people prefer to juggle work and caring rather than have time off. Talk to your carers to find out what they need.”
Equipping line managers with the skills they need to manage flexible workers and those with caring responsibilities has been key, as has using technology to help carers access resources. The next step, says Hughes, will be to make the most of social networks like Yammer to ensure employees with caring responsibilities can join the support network wherever they happen to be. This integrated approach is paying off, with estimated cost savings of £2.5 million via increased retention and £4.5 million through reduced unplanned absenteeism.
The “sandwich generation” of carers - those employees who might be caring for children and elderly relatives at the same time – is starting to become more of an issue, says Hughes. “We need to start looking more at sandwich caring needs and how we support that: are we doing enough?” she adds. Given the changing demographics of the UK workforce and population at large, it’s a question that other employers would do well to be asking.