Family-friendly gardening

Gardening company Carty Services won the’s Top Employer Award for smaller SMEs for its flexible, family friendly approach.

Martin Carty posing with his top employer award certificate

Working Mums - Top Employer Awards 2019 at the Soho Hotel

Martin Carty was a house husband looking to go back to work on part-time hours that worked around his wife’s shifts when he set up Carty Services 10 years ago.

The Warwickshire-based garden maintenance and cleaning company, which won the’s 2019 Top Employer Award for smaller SMEs, was initially refused a bank loan because the bank did not accept that a company could be run by a manager working part time and employing mainly part-time staff. Martin has since proved the bank wrong, employing eight permanent members of staff, both part and full time, and has been able to grow the business  by 20% or more every year for a number of years.

Given its origins, flexibility is at the core of the business. Martin has been keen to help others who need to work flexibly. That includes term-time only and part time/school hours. Moreover, full-time employees finish at 4.15pm so they can spend time with their families.

Workers start on zero hours and, after a trial period to test things like whether they can cope with being out in all weather and with the physicality of the job, are able to take on regular hours. Once on a regular contract, Martin provides regular opportunities for employees to adjust their hours to suit their needs – there is an annual review of hours, but Martin also checks on any potential changes on a weekly basis and tailors the schedule to their needs, ensuring that they also fit client demand. Clients are usually on a monthly contract.

Hours can, for instance, be tweaked to cater for unexpected problems such as family illnesses, with the employee rescheduling missed hours into the weekly or monthly timetable. This also applies to employee sickness and means the company is able to reduce the amount of time lost  due to sickness. Due to the seasonal nature of the work, employees work fewer hours in winter so they may be able to make up lost hours in the winter months, provided the work is available. If this is not possible, the lost hours can be deducted from the next year’s annual leave entitlement.

Another key element of Martin’s family friendly approach is that he makes sure that workers who have to pick up children after school are placed at very local sites.

Business benefits

Employees are very proud of the flexibility Carty Services offers and say it delivers several business benefits. “It’s our USP. It is what makes us different from everyone else,” says former manager Debbie Bloomfield. Debbie recently moved to a new full-time compliance and health & safety role at a top university which she says is thanks to the skills she developed and the training she received with Carty Services. Debbie had been with the company for over 10 years as has another member of the team.

Another member has been with the company for around eight years and another left for three months and came back again after realising she loved the outdoors lifestyle and missed the camaraderie of the company. Debbie says Carty Services’ flexible culture has resulted in high retention rates in an industry renowned for its high turnover rates. “People do stay. Martin says anything over five years is very unusual because of the nature of the work,” she states. “The flexible working is a massive retention tool, with women in particular staying longer.”


So how does it all work? Martin has developed a system of annualised hours contracts which means that although the workload varies over the course of the year, wages for that year are spread equally over 12 months, which gives employees the security of receiving a regular income despite the seasonal nature of the work.

Some people, however, prefer zero hours contracts. Martin is the logistics lynchpin of the organisation and knows everyone’s schedule, but the general manager keeps a record of how many hours everyone has worked in a week based on people reporting in their daily hours via text. That means managers know how many hours are still to be worked on any given contract. The secret to the system is regular communication, a well developed sense of camaraderie and trust.

Training and using people’s skills

Martin is very clear that in return for the flexibility he offers working parents he gets a lot back, not just in the form of reduced absence rates or loyalty, but additional skills. Several mums come from non-gardening backgrounds and Martin is keen to make the most of their additional skills if they can be useful for the business. For example, one mum previously worked for many years in IT and was able to help build the company website. Another worked in Human Resources and was able to help draft an induction document for new employees.

In addition to making the most of existing skills, Martin is also keen for workers to get the training they need to progress, whatever shift pattern they work. All staff get six days a year practical garden maintenance training which is delivered by a qualified lecturer in horticulture. Martin arranges these training days for a Tuesday or Thursday when he knows everyone is available.

Family friendly

Besides flexibility and training, Martin offers a range of family friendly benefits. For example, women who take time out after maternity leave get first refusal on any suitable vacancies that arise up until their child starts primary school. One worker, for instance, has recently returned to work after her maternity leave and a subsequent break of three and a half years to look after her baby.

Other family friendly benefits include an extra day’s leave for those who become grandparents which can be taken at any point in the year after the birth.

Martin also provides opportunities for his employees to bring their families to social events, such as his annual summer barbecue.

This is the second time Carty Services has won a Top Employer Award for its flexible, family-friendly approach. In its application for this year’s award, the company lists some of the awards it has won and says simply: “This all goes to prove that a company can be very successful while, at the same time, doing all it can to support family life and promote a healthy work-life balance.”

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