EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Case Study: Awareness Raising – Centrica, UK

About

Country: 
United Kingdom
Organisation Size: 
Large (250+)
Sectors: 
Private sector
Initiative Types: 
Leave-relatedHours reductionWork adjustmentsCare-related supportsawareness raising


Company / organisation name

Centrica

Initiative name

Diversity – Carers Policy

About the company / organisation

Centrica plc was established in 1997 following a demerger from British Gas plc. Centrica is an integrated energy company operating predominately in the UK and North America. Upstream, the company sources, generates, processes, trades and stores energy. Downstream, Centrica supplies gas and electricity to millions of homes and businesses. It also offers a range of home energy solutions and competitive products and services.

Centrica employs over 34,000 people, 26,000 of whom are based in the UK. Their roles range from offshore platform engineers to call centre agents and office workers. The company strategy is to provide employees with an environment in which they can maximise their potential and flourish. Its latest report on corporate social responsibility (CSR) states:

We aim to foster a skilled, productive, motivated and diverse workforce by supporting skills development, promoting diversity and equal opportunities and providing regular opportunities for engagement.

Diversity and inclusion are key elements of Centrica’s CSR strategy. It sets the goal of employing a higher number of older workers and people from ethnic minorities, so that it may better reflect the diverse communities it serves. In 2009, Centrica’s age-friendly employment practices received awards in both the UK and the USA.

The initiative

Carers are defined as persons who:

look after family, partners or friends in need of help because they are ill, frail or have a disability. The care they provide is unpaid. [...] This means that a carer is an employee with caring responsibilities, which have an impact on their working life. These employees will be responsible for the care and support of a disabled, elderly or sick partner, relative or close friend who is unable to care for themselves.

A carers’ network has been in place since 2003. Through this, individuals with caring responsibilities cam link up through the intranet and through events that are hosted by Centrica.

A confidential helpline is available to all Centrica employees. It can be accessed for advice regarding issues such as work, finance, schooling and, specifically for carers, financial assistance and support. In addition to Centrica employees, family members can also use the helpline to seek advice. Centrica monitors the number of calls and the type of queries, but the names of people making enquiries are not recorded.

Information of relevance to working carers, such as that relating to caring allowances, and caring homes, is provided through a variety of channels. The company intranet features an additional portal which is managed by an external company, CAS. This offers advice on all health-related issues.

Line managers undergo training in diversity, which includes issues concerning caring responsibilities. This is to enable them to respond appropriately to requests from their employees. Line managers are also made fully aware of the flexible working packages on offer and are encouraged to communicate them to their team. The range of flexible working options available address many of the most pressing needs of working carers, both long-term and short-term.

Experience shows that both line managers and a working carer’s co-workers within their team, play a key role in making flexible working arrangements a feasible option.

Planned carer’s leave is usually provided on a short-term basis. There is a good level of awareness about this leave support. It is paid for by ‘matching’, which means that the employee uses part of their annual holiday entitlement and this is matched by Centrica. For example, a planned leave of five days would ‘cost’ the employee 2.5 days annual leave, and the remaining 2.5 days are paid for by Centrica.

Emergency leave, as the name suggests, is for unexpected caring responsibilities – this is paid for by Centrica. Unpaid leave (also known as dependent leave) is for when employees have used all other options to maintain their caring responsibilities.

In the event of the death of the person being cared for, up to five days paid dependent leave may be taken within three months of the bereavement. This leave is in addition to five days bereavement leave contained within the family leave policy. It may be requested in circumstances where there are additional arrangements/adjustments to be made outside of the immediate bereavement period.

Options for flexible working include career breaks, sabbaticals, part time staging, and job sharing.

While at work, carers can also use the phone for matters related to their caring role, in arrangement with their line manager. Counselling for carers can also be made available through their line manager.

Rationale and background of the initiative

The introduction of a carer’s policy over 10 years ago responded to an ageing population and the fact that caring responsibilities were becoming increasingly widespread. The head of the diversity team at that time foresaw the changing demographics and started a programme of events and networking with external stakeholders. For example, an employers’ forum on age and a network of employers for carers were set up. In parallel, a carer’s policy within Centrica was developed within the context of the company policy on workplace diversity.

In a more general process, Centrica went through a phase of exploring ways to improve working conditions for employees, thus improving work performance and employee retention. In 2004, the company introduced the ‘Workwise’ programme, to enable employees to work more flexibly. Instead of waiting for employees to approach managers, Centrica turned this concept around by making managers approach employees to ask whether they wanted to have flexible working. Three broad types of work were identified: work that needed to be office-based; work that could best be performed when mobile; and work that would benefit from being home-based. To achieve the ‘Workwise’ programme, each team worked out the logistics and technology needs for all team members and their respective preferred working practices. Any technology introduced to team members also involved training attached. In addition, a team charter was developed within each team to encourage a communicative and functioning working environment.

The benefits of such an approach became fairly obvious in terms of productivity and employee retention. In relation working carers, the approach also meant that team members’ informal care-giving responsibilities became transparent to the entire team. This results in a greater willingness among other employees to cover working carers on care-related emergency leave. More generally, the approach encourages an atmosphere of cooperation between members, from which working carers can benefit considerably.

Processes and activities are audited to determine their impact on diversity and to feed into the further development of the company’s diversity agenda. As women are still under-represented in Centrica’s workforce – largely due to the high proportion of engineers – it is a key objective to improve female representation at all levels. British Gas (which belongs to Centrica) received the 25th Anniversary Women in Science & Engineering Award for recruiting, training and developing female engineers.

Results and assessment

The ‘Workwise’ programme resulted in about 20,400 (60%) of Centrica’s worldwide workforce using some form of flexible working arrangements. The remaining 40% continued with formal working arrangements.

Out of all 34,000 employees, about 13,600 (40%) are carers or parents (no further breakdown is available of these data)

The membership of Centrica’s carers’ network has risen from 100 in 2003 to 450 in 2010.

Generally, experience shows that most working carers at Centrica are able to plan their working practices in ways that suit their needs and preferences. In the case of planned leave, the procedure is straightforward and the needs of the carer can usually be fully met. In instances where emergencies occur, or an employee needs special leave, policies in place effectively support employees, and – importantly – ensure they receive pay during short-term absences.

In practice, line managers offer working arrangements that are tailored to individual circumstances. One example is an employee who has a son with Downs’s syndrome. He needs to do a significant amount of driving every other Friday to collect the boy from a specialist school several hours away from his home. In order to address the situation, a special working pattern was put into place to take the pressure off: every second Friday was a leave day for this employee to account for the fact that the son needed to be collected from school. The ‘lost’ hours were then made up during the following fortnight.

Issues, challenges and lessons learned

The successful development and implementation of a policy for working carers, and, just as critically, the cultural acceptance of practices supporting this target group, depend upon several interrelated factors. A key component is the philosophy and practice of valuing employees. Centrica’s approach is to value and enhance employees’ working experience by ensuring that other parts of their lives can coexist with their working life as well as possible. The commitment and involvement of senior managers/CEOs regarding the needs of carers and related policy are also essential; these individuals have an enormous influence upon the culture and working environment of other employees. In Centrica’s case it has proven essential that, among others, Ian Peters, the managing director of British Gas, has acted as a keen supporter and sponsor of the company’s carers policy.

Finding different routes for carers to share information is also essential. This is evidenced by the increasing number taking part in the carers’ network in Centrica. The network also serves to validate carers. Experience shows that carers can feel isolated and reluctant to discuss their caring issues; having discussions with others in similar situations or who have the same needs has been found to encourage confidence and help avoid the ‘victim’ construction.

Centrica’s experience shows that most carers are capable individuals who are not necessarily looking for sympathy. Rather, they want to organise their life and work in a way to enable their caring and work responsibilities to be fulfilled.

Based on Centrica’s experience, a number of recommendations can be given to other employers who are interested in implementing a policy supporting working carers. These are summarised below.

It has proven very valuable for Centrica to cooperate with specialist organisations, such as Employers for Carers. Such bodies will already have dealt with most of the issues around access to information and benefits. They are also likely to have contacts with other companies with a similar core business. Much can be gained from a dialogue between companies to share best practice, to learn from individual challenges and how they can be addressed.

Centrica also recommends the creation of a carers policy, in dialogue with all stakeholders: employees, managers and unions. This will make it much easier to set up measures that will actually work in practice. Companies must ensure that line managers have the required training and autonomy to respond to carers’ needs at different times throughout their working lives.

Another recommendation is that employers should promote the policy in all parts of the company, optimally with the help of a senior manager who champions the strategy. Finally, the policy should regularly be reviewed to make sure that it still ‘fits’ with current legislation, with changes within the company, and with the needs and preferences of employees.

Sources

Case study author:

  • Dr Paula Byrne, Division Primary Care, University Liverpool

Interviewee:

  • Melanie Flogdell, Head of HR Policy

Online sources:

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