Centrica: best for family support

Top Employer Awards

There’s been a lot of focus recently on the multi-generational workforce as the retirement age rises and more and more women remain in work after having children. One company which has put a lot of thought into this issue is Centrica, which won the workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Family Support.

It was recognised for policies ranging from support for dads, carers, training of managers in how to deal with people with caring responsibilities and more recently its new returner initiative with Mars and Vodafone, which recognises the often overlooked talent pool of mainly women who have taken career breaks for family reasons and want to get back to work.

The returner initiative, which has received a lot of support internally, including from Centrica’s employee networks, is a pilot programme and the first cross-business one between Centrica, Mars and Vodafone. The organisations involved are now considering what a wider roll out may look like.

Alison Hughes, Group Head of HR Policy & Diversity, says it is clear there is a lot of value in the programme, which is open to men and women, and she says the cross-business nature of it is powerful. It came out of a roundtable event at the Women’s Business Council, of which all three companies are members. “Having three big brands on board was very attractive,” Alison adds.

The response rate has been good. Alison cites one woman who had been out of the workplace for over 10 years who was interviewed for a big operational role. “She has fantastic experience and leadership. She blew us away,” she says.

Centrica will be modifying the programme in line with what it has learnt and with a continued focus on the Thames Valley/M4 corridor. For instance, it has decided to take people on according to the talent gaps across different departments in the organisation in line with its annual capability review.

Focus on dads

The focus on returners is all part of Centrica’s talent attraction and retention strategy, which includes embedding a diversity lens in talent metrics, particularly around gender, and mentors to support female talent.

Centrica has also been doing a lot of work on dads. Just before Shared Parental Leave came in, it set up a Dads Network to try to understand more about what their employees who are dads might want in terms of support. It is now changing its name to Parents Network. It will have a senior manager as sponsor, evidence that the initiative is supported from the top.  Alison explains the name change: “We had put our focus on maternity leave and helping women back and Shared Parental Leave made us realise we could do more for dads so we set up the Dads Network. However, as things go on we have become aware that what came up were issues that were not just about dads, but about conversations around childcare and that mums also needed to be there so it was more balanced.”

The networks, which grow organically and are employee-led, are also linking up more. They include parents, carers, women’s and LGBT networks. They have quarterly meetings to share what they have learnt as well as resources, for instance, one network might attend or speak at another network’s event.


In addition Centrica has been doing a lot of work on supporting carers and has won recognition for its innovative work on eldercare.

It started to support carers earlier than many employers. It has had a carers network since 2005 and the network now has around 1,000 members and a senior business sponsor, Ian Peters, Director of Customer Facing Strategy, who has worked closely with Carers UK and Employers for Carers.

It plays an important role in awareness raising about Centrica’s carers’ leave policy and carers’ needs. Centrica’s carers’ policies cover those with elder care responsibilities, or a disabled child, but not childcare for which it has separate policies. A growing number of employees have both childcare and eldercare responsibilities, says Alison, adding that it may be more difficult to predict eldercare needs which can sometimes be unplanned.

Centrica also has an innovative carer’s leave policy whereby they provide up to one month of matched leave. That means a person can book, say, a day off for care needs a year and Centrica will match this by doubling the leave. Alison says many carers don’t need to take several weeks off. They may, however, need a few days at a time on several occasions in a year, for instance, to make long-term care arrangements. Due to Centrica’s flexible working policy many carers don’t have to take leave, but can adjust their working times and, for instance, leave early.

Flexible working

In 2014 Centrica set up a pilot training programme for managers with Working Families and Employers for Carers which was focused on carers and flexible working. The hook for the programme was the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees. Those taking part were managers who had people with caring responsibilities in their teams. Centrica is looking at embedding this in its line manager training programme in early 2016. “We are trying to embed diversity and inclusion and flexible working is a part of this. We have found that stand alone modules don’t make a difference to day to day working,” says Alison. “It’s all about being a good manager and promoting good behaviour. There is no single solution to these issues. We need to create the right culture.” That also includes having good role models, including of senior managers who are working flexibly.

Centrica has also invested in an online portal and tailored to the company’s needs. This includes a webinar series offering more support around, for instance, negotiating flexible working and specific resources for working dads.

Another area for future development is support for older workers. “What we offer in terms of family support is not just about parents or carers. It’s end to end resources for families,” says Alison. “We want to create an inclusive culture so people can bring their whole selves to work.”

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