Supporting carers at work

A Working Families webinar for National Work Life Week looked at how progressive employers are supporting those with caring responsibilities, whether for older relatives, children with disabilities or others.

reviews of policy following the general election result.


What are the best employers doing to support people with caring responsibilities, whether that is looking after elderly parents or children with disabilities? A webinar this week for National Work Life Week featured what three prominent employers are doing.

The webinar was run by Working Families and its CEO Jane Van Zyl introduced the session, citing recent polling by Working Families which shows how carers perceive the impact their caring responsibilities have on their promotion prospects. Half of the carers surveyed thought their caring responsibilities had held them back from promotion, compared to 35% of working parents [and 41% of working mums]. However, on a more positive note, the survey found that carers were among those most positively affected by the focus on wellbeing during the pandemic, with 61% benefiting from more open conversations about wellbeing [compared to half of working parents].

Van Zyl said 93% of the employers Working Families works with are proactive in the support they offer carers, including mentoring, a carers network, carers leave and webinars. The webinar heard from three of these.


Joanne Hall is co-chair of the working carers network at Nationwide.  She spoke of how the network had tackled the problems of much of their workforce moving online during the pandemic and said they had had to be very proactive and creative, particularly at identifying and reaching out to carers. Many people who have caring responsibilities don’t consider themselves carers, she said, and that makes reaching out to them more difficult in the virtual world. They reached out to other employee network groups, such as their faith and belief network, for instance, given that in some cultures caring is not recognised as being an additional responsibility. The event heard, for example, that there is no word for carer in Punjabi. 

Nationwide also moved drop-in sessions such as their time for me time for tea groups online and spread them throughout the day so customer-facing staff can access them and have run a drop-in session for male carers.

Hall said being virtual has expanded the number of people who can access events and brought discussions about new issues such as anticipatory grief – anticipating a person’s death – and dementia.

During the pandemic Nationwide also launched a hidden hero campaign to tell individual carers’ stories. “We made it clear that it was not about giving people labels and that they did not have to sign up to the carers network,” said Hall, adding that the aim was to raise awareness and support for those with caring responsibilities. During Carer’s Week they held events on a range of different issues, including an event for male carers, a focus on caring vs self care and an event in partnership with Macmillan and Dementia Care. Nationwide’s radio also broadcast information about its support for carers which customers picked up on.

Hall spoke of how new employees are given information about the business’ employee network groups when they join and are signposted to support. 

Nationwide has a range of policies for carers, including a carer’s passport scheme where employees record their caring needs in as much or little detail as they want to and this enables managers to have structured conversations about them with the individual and to ensure that those needs are still recognised if the person changes line manager. They also offer paid carer’s leave which can be booked in 30-minute chunks, for instance, for appointments, if necessary. Hall said the senior leadership team are very engaged and talking about caring more whereas before conversations about caring responsibilities were more about parents than carers.


Patrick McCarthy, co-chair of Centrica’s carers network, paid tribute to two colleagues on the network who had died of Covid, including his predecessor as co-chair. He has a 14-year-old daughter who is severely disabled. He said he was proud of Centrica’s support for carers, including its carer’s passport and its carers leave policy [10 days paid carers leave plus up to another 10 days which has to be matched with annual leave]. The company tracks how much leave is taken and McCarthy said the average is 3.5 days. He thinks some people are reluctant to take it and wants to encourage more to do so.

He said the company is trying to normalise caring and pairs members of the carers network with senior leaders so they can understand the issues carers are facing better. The network’s sponsor is the Managing Director of British Gas, showing that senior leaders are engaged, and there are training modules available for all managers so the support offered is consistent across the company. Line managers have access to common scenarios and can get one to one support for more complex cases.

McCarthy said there is a communications challenge in getting messages out to all employees, particularly engineers and call centre workers. The company uses Teams to coordinate network activities and members of the network use Yammer and share real life stories. McCarthy said great policies are the first step and are only as good as the people who deliver them which is why consistency of application is vital.

Crown Prosecution Service

Linda D’Oyley is HR manager at the Crown Prosecution Service and founded the organisation’s carers network. She said the biggest challenge was to get carers to come forward, to overcome stigma and to recognise the support the organisation is offering. That means line managers have to be aware of possible signs that people are struggling with caring responsibilities [for instance, attendance issues, multiple flexible working requests and so forth], understand the issues they might be facing and that carers’ needs vary and may differ every week and be approachable.

The CPS also offers a carer’s passport, has a carer’s policy and trains line managers in how to support carers in addition to its carers network. Covid has helped it to reach out to more people.

There was a general discussion about the potential for overlap between employee networks, for instance, between working parent networks and carers networks for those with children with disabilities. McCarthy said Centrica has regular catch-ups between networks. D’Oyley said the CPS has both a working parents and a carers network and that there is a sub-group of the carers network for parents of children with disabilities. 

The speakers also spoke about potential resentment from other groups about generous policies for carers and about the need to make carers networks visible during the recruitment process and to use case studies on intranet and external sites to show that carers are welcome and valued.

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