Getting dads to embrace flexibility

The majority of people working flexibly at British Gas are men and the company has won awards for its work on encouraging a work life balance for dads. spoke to them.

British Gas has won a host of awards in recent years for its policies on carers, flexible working and dads.

At a time when more and more companies are looking to engage with dads in the workplace, British Gas provides a good example of what works. Voted best for dads by Working Families two years running, HR Director Angela Williams says its policies on carers, flexible working and dads are aimed at attracting the best employees. “British Gas knows its brand. We are in half the homes of Britain and because of that we are close to modern family life and how it is changing,” she says.

A few years ago it set up its Workwise programme which helps employees manage their work and personal commitments through flexible working. “It’s about any time any place working,” says Williams. “We want our employees to take control of their work life balance.” It’s a comprehensive programme which ensures flexible working permeates the organisation. Senior leaders allocate Workwise managers and champions to support staff to work flexibly. The programme is available to all staff. Williams says flexible working applies to hours, location, working patterns, start and finish times for shifts, compressed hours, mobile working and homeworking.
Fifty-eight per cent of people who work flexibly at British Gas are men who make up 70 per cent of employees. Mostly, says Williams, they want to either start or finish early because of their caring responsibilities, but they may do a nine-day fortnight or work evenings or the twilight shift. Rosters are generally drawn up three months in advance, but shifts can be changed on an ad hoc basis in agreement with managers if there is a last-minute caring problem.

“We are very open,” says Williams. “Our flexible working policies are on the intranet and managers are encouraged to support them.”

Male employees are also the most likely to work from home. Ninety-seven per cent of home-based employees, mainly engineers and people like health and safety officers, are men. Williams mentions a safety expert with two young children who is based at home and works compressed hours. He picks up the children from school and is with them until his wife returns then he works non-standard hours or weekends to make up his hours.

Williams says the system is based on trust and if trust is breached, the company is not as flexible. She is in no doubt that the Workwise scheme has helped to attract top quality employees and says that through it flexible working has now become the norm at the company.

Business case
British Gas’ employee engagement survey shows that the flexible work policy is viewed positively by staff. Productivity has also increased in the last two years in all areas of the business, says Williams, and absences are down, saving the company millions in lost working days.

British Gas has also been praised for the way it proactively tries to encourage dads to spend time with their children from birth. They get two weeks’ paternity leave and, although take-up of additional paternity leave is low as it is across the UK, this is because for economic reasons men prefer things like compressed hours or flexi time. The company has fathers champions to communicate messages and information about resources that are available for dads. It also promotes good practice to other organisations.

British Gas founded the Employers for Fathers group of organisations that are dedicated to supporting dads and helped pilot a programme called Staying Connected. This provides a half day training programme for dads going through separations which gives advice on staying in communication with their former partners and strengthening their relationship with their children. Williams says such initiatives are part of a wider wellbeing programme at British Gas, arguing that not supporting employees going through difficult times leads to higher absence rates and impacts on productivity.

She adds that the company’s employee assistance programme shows that the majority of concerns employees have relate to family problems and lack of support. “Addressing this minimises absences, increases motivation and gets people back to work quicker,” she says, adding that mental health issues are in the top four reasons for employee absence.

The company is working more actively on issues around promoting health. “We want to make sure parents are looking after themselves and managing their caring responsibilities,” she says. The company’s Smile programme promotes its well being agenda through get-togethers which promote, for example, healthy eating. Managers are also supported to spot the signs of mental health and carer issues. “We want to give our managers the right support to be able to help our employees,” states Williams, adding that managers who lead teams of home-based engineers ensure they talk to staff once a day and have regular one to one sessions.

She says: “Our flexible working policy is right for us as employers. It makes commercial sense. It’s also right for us all as human beings and it makes for a more engaged workforce.”

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