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What does Flex mean to you?

In a flexible world, everyone works differently and for different reasons, and so for this year’s National Work Life Week, we’re asking people to share – what does flexible working mean to you? 

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Published: 20 Jan 2015

Centrica, Winner 2014, The National Grid Best for Flexible Working Award

Centrica wants to be the leading energy company, and it recognises that its people are the key to realising this ambition. To this end, it has committed to developing flexible working as a way to create a working environment that is inclusive, attracts and retains the best people, and encourages them to fulfil their potential.

Centrica realises that people have a life outside work, and that ideally work needs to fit in with other commitments. Thinking creatively about new ways of working that improve retention, productivity, motivation and morale, enlarge the recruitment pool, increase diversity and talent and reduce property costs across the company is essential. This means that, in practice, Centrica will always consider, and where possible, implement flexible working arrangements. Over 60% of employees have some form of flexible working arrangement in place, including changing hours, working pattern or place of work.

Centrica has a decade of experience of flexible working, but is striving to embed flexibility right across its business. A Policy Steering Group has therefore been established with senior sponsorship to examine how flexible working can be shown to have tangible business benefits, and is not just viewed as an employee benefit. This has lead to a number of new activities. Centrica has conducted research into what the influences are on women in the business which has enabled them to build a qualitative understanding of what it’s like to be a female working in Centrica. This research informed measurable recommendations for change in the area of flexible working.

Line manager workshops were developed to support the flexibility required by employees with caring responsibilities. The workshops included: an introduction to an evidence-based toolkit to identify the flexible options in any role, top tips for leading high performing flexible teams, demonstrating how engaging carers and a flexible approach to work maximises engagement, drives performance, optimises assets and increases innovation and customer service. The training was initially rolled out to managers in Customer Services. The leadership team has subsequently requested this is now rolled out more widely across the business to more line managers.

A new online ‘Benefits Plus’ package has been designed to support the way people work and offers more choice to support flexible workers in the areas of childcare, elder care and additional leave.

Flexible working is now promoted at induction and included in a New Manager toolkit. It is also promoted on the British Gas jobs website: resourcing teams are looking at promoting it throughout the recruitment and joining process. In addition, relevant policies were refreshed to actively promote flexible working. Greater awareness of these policies has led to a significant increase in the number of men and women in senior roles working flexibly. Centrica has also seen its carers network grow from 700 to 800 in the last year, which it ascribes to targeted awareness raising of the options available.

Research identified that flexible working was not working as well as it could in the Service and Repair business within British Gas (circa 10,000 engineers). It was felt that the current approach did not fully address the employees’ or the organisation’s needs for flexibility, which raised concerns around consistency, fairness and line manager capability. As a result the senior leadership team signed off a number of recommendations including:

• The appointment of a flexible working champion (from the senior leadership team)
• Investigating the work scheduling system and ascertaining whether it could used more flexibly
• Reviewing the scope for flexibility during the initial training period to ascertain whether changes could be made • Developing and sharing a case study/role model and sharing it
• Using existing Centrica training programmes to upskill managers and create an open and transparent environment

for dealing with flexible working requests
• Making an external commitment to flexible working – to consider flexible working kitemarks/standards