Care aware: why we’re challenging employers to care for the Carers

Dave Kirwan

By Dave Kirwan

I have been working for Centrica, leading Customer Operations at British Gas, for the past 12 months having previously run the company’s Irish business. This year I proudly became sponsor of Centrica’s UK Carer’s Network and did so because my wife, Catriona, has acted as carer for many years for our son Liam who has an intellectual disability.

Without Catriona’s intervention Liam would not be the happy little boy he is today. To do that, however, Catriona had to give up her job to prioritise Liam and our family’s needs.

This isn’t unusual. Three in five people become carers in their lifetime and without the appropriate support, combining caring and working can be difficult. In many cases carers feel forced to give up work altogether. That’s why we at Centrica believe it’s critical employers across the board not only recognise this growing issue but also have the right policies in place to support their workforce.

I recently had the privilege to share Centrica’s story of supporting carers at an Employers for Carers networking event, celebrating ten years of the forum’s existence. Our relationship Employers for Carers started when, as a founding member alongside Carers UK, we established a practice of developing and championing support for carers within our own workplace.  

Over the years – 15 to be exact – our commitment to our colleagues has evolved into a formal policy. This policy recognises the challenges being a carer can represent when in full time employment and includes:

  • A leading paid carers’ leave policy, which offers a month’s matched leave
  • Flexible working arrangements to better combine ongoing caring responsibilities with work
  • Peer support – including a longstanding and thriving employee carers network, with 1,000 members, which has been providing much valued peer support since 2005. More recently we have recruited 200 mental health first aiders across 16 of our sites to provide vital peer support to our people.

Proactively supporting our carer colleagues has saved our business £3.1m in absenteeism, presenteeism and retention. Like any societal challenge, ignoring the problem is often a more expensive approach than investing time to find a workable solution. For those people who must juggle the demands of full time employment and being a carer, it is inevitable they will face unplanned absenteeism, including stress-related absences, all of which are costs to organisations.

If we didn’t provide the support structure we do, we could lose some of our best people who are duty bound to look after their loved ones.

With an ageing population, the number of carers will only increase. As a responsible employer, we believe it’s crucial we do all we can to adapt to these changing demographics and support our employees. We also recently announced an exciting new partnership with Carers UK, to build on what we have achieved so far. There are four key objectives for this partnership:

  1. Achieve greater understanding and support for carers in society
  2. Help carers access the support they need
  3. Develop and mainstream innovative products for carers
  4. Engage Centrica employees in the carers cause through employee fundraising and volunteering activities  

Our ambition for our partnership with Carers UK is to improve the lives of 6.5 million carers across the country. We want to shift the way society recognises, values and supports carers through using our customer marketing and communications. We want to become a carer-friendly company for our customers, assessing our processes and training our people to be care-aware.

We want to create innovative products and services for carers to help with their caring responsibilities. We’ve already begun this with the recent launch of Hive Link.

We want to get our people to champion the cause, through fundraising and volunteering, so we’ve set ourselves an ambitious £1 million target over the next 3 years. We want to build on our carer-friendly employer status and improve our people’s access to support and advice services. We know there is more we can do so we’re looking at expanding our carers network, enhancing line manager training and reviewing our policies.

I’m proud of the support we provide our carers and we’re pleased to have been recognised in several national employer awards, which is greatly appreciated but humbling at the same time. I say that because Centrica fundamentally believes that offering this support is the right thing to do for our people, who perform heroics not just for our customers but in their own homes too. We believe that recognising and supporting our people in this way creates a culture which not only creates a more diverse and inclusive workforce but also permeates into the service our customers experience.

We’re also proud of our long-term association with Employers for Carers and will continue to see caring as of the one key social issues in our society – one we’re committed to tackling head on.

By working with other businesses, we can drive collective change and increase support for working carers, supporting them to support their families and in turn making an invaluable contribution to our society.