Down the line - supporting line managers | March 2016

EfC Leadership Group member, Nationwide, hosted this members' networking event at their Threadneedle office in London.  

Ann Brown, Director of HR, Nationwide gave a warm introduction to the 65+attendees and spoke about Nationwide’s continuing commitment to their working carers.  A recent workforce survey and carer focus groups showed that engaging and supporting line managers was a key issue.

Employers for Carers Chair, Ian Peters, spoke briefly about the importance of having fully engaged line managers as well as good policies, and then introduced Alison Hughes, Centrica Group Head of Diversity and Inclusion.

Alison gave an overview of Centrica’s carers network which started in 2005 and now has approximately 1,000 members – but with over 24,000 employees, there is still work to be done to raise awareness of the support available in the workplace amongst staff and line managers.  

Keen to assess and recognise the impact and reach of their carers network, they have collaborated with other networks at Centrica and what became apparent across the board was that what really makes a difference for carers is flexibility; around working times and home working.  At the same time, they realised that support for carers wasn’t happening in many areas - perhaps not surprising as managers had not been upskilled around these issues, and that it can be hard for managers to deal with caring issues if they haven’t had direct experience of caring themselves or of supporting carers in their team.  Therefore, Centrica decided to focus on line manager support and training in this area, in collaboration with Carers UK/EfC and Working Families (who also support them on the parenting/flexible working agenda). They selected a centre in Cardiff to pilot line manager training and a call centre in Glasgow to pilot a carer workshop.  

Evaluation of the managers in Cardiff who participated in the training showed that over 95% rated it 8 out of 10 or above. They are now looking to build more measurements including through a line manager index in their engagement survey.

Amanda Rice, Nationwide Head of Culture & Inclusion believes that Nationwide’s workplace culture is one of its biggest assets. It has a clear wellbeing strategy (launched last year) to help staff to ‘flourish’; the strategy covers four areas: physical, mental, financial and family wellbeing.  Caring has obvious synergies with the wider wellbeing and D&I agenda and they are looking to maximise all opportunities to promote this agenda. 

They are keen to raise awareness among line managers about the importance of signposting carers to sources of information and support, including to organisations such as Carers UK. They have a good partnership with Macmillan and a key area of work with them will include supporting employees who are caring for family member who has cancer.  

Ian Peters summarised the key points for further discussion prior to an update on the Government’s forthcoming Fuller Working Lives strategy from Lis Robinson, DWP Head of Work and Wellbeing in Later Life.   Employers were key to the strategy and a FWL Business Strategy Group has been established, comprising around 40-45 employer representatives, including the EfC Chair and Carers UK, to contribute to its development. Working groups have been established to look at key themes around the ‘retain, retrain, recruit’ report and would now include self-employment. DWP will be keeping in touch with the EfC Chair and Carers UK on further developments.

Phillip Anderson, Department of Health Social Care Policy and Legislation Team, Department of Health gave an update on the forthcoming National Carers Strategy to be published later this year, for which the Department of Health (DH) was expected to invite evidence shortly.  Clarified that this will be a call for evidence, not a formal consultation, and that the Government is keen to capture people’s experiences as working/working age carers. It is also hoped to hold a roundtable on carers and employment with the minister (Phillip will be in touch with Carers UK/EfC with further details when known).

Caroline Waters, Vice President of Carers UK and former EfC Chair, felt that:

(1) Removing the 26 weeks qualifying period for the statutory right to request flexible working would help carers take up employment (as they can’t always wait for 26 weeks if they need a bit of flexibility to combine work and caring).

(2) It was important not to ‘overprescribe’ what carers services should do; they need to be individualised.

Madeleine Starr, Carers UK gave an update on Carers UK’s e-learning and digital resources.  EfC members will have the opportunity to gain a 20% discount on the digital offer and further details will be circulated in due course.

Prior to the final Q & A discussion, there was a final round up from Ian Peters:

  • EfC membership has grown by around 50% in the last 3 years and, with total employees covered by member organisations now above the 1 million mark, the number of working carers represented is likely to be around 120,000 – 130,000.
  • Sectoral representation is getting wider but EfC is still short in some areas, especially in manufacturing, tech and pharma. SMEs are also hard to engage but umbrella membership is opening this up.
  • EfC is self-financing and is still unique in the world as an employer forum solely focusing on carers. 
  • Supporting carers in employment is building momentum in national policy and EfC/Carers UK are embedded in the Government’s Carers Strategy and Fuller Working Lives initiatives. The agenda and momentum is also building internationally.  
  • The EfC Leadership Group consists of a relatively small number of massively committed people and is keen to engage other interested members either to join on a long-term basis, for a short/defined period or simply to help on a specific topic

Guests remained for a further hour and had the opportunity to network over canapes, wine and soft drinks, generously provided by Nationwide.