Employee Benefits Awards 2009: Most effective benefits strategy for working parents and carers (Sponsored by kidsunlimited)

Centrica Work:wise – Achieving the Balance

Project Martini (later renamed Work:wise) was launched to offer staff, irrespective of grade or statutory requirements, greater control over their work-life balance, while using office space more efficiently. The project’s original name aimed to promote a shift in thinking to “anytime, anyplace, anywhere” working. Also, the project’s strapline was: “Work is something you do, not somewhere you go.”

This is what made this entry stand out – it was not just about a service that supported parents, it was about a new way of working that did not make parents and carers feel different. It allows staff to meet work and life commitments that suit their circumstances. The judges felt this employer was well ahead in changing the nine-to-five mentality to benefit the business.

Centrica realised that changing demographics – older workforce and more women – would affect its workforce planning. It needed a strategy to engage people with greater caring responsibilities than previous workforces. IT means people can work anywhere, anytime. By allowing staff to work away from the office, Centrica cut its property portfolio, saving £10m a year, and flexible working is imbedded in its culture. Overall results for this three-year-old project were impressive.

Highlights include: 60% of staff work flexibly, 41% of these have “formal” working arrangements in place, 63% work remotely, 27% work staggered hours and 40 have caring responsibilities. Flexible workers scored higher on indirect performancerelated aspects, such as commitment, empowerment, job satisfaction, job fulfilment and work-life balance.

Pictured left: Mel Flogdell, head of HR policy at Centrica, said on winning the award: “It’s such a pleasant surprise. I think that in the current economic climate, people are looking for something extra, and our scheme is a win win situation for all involved.”





  • Shell International Shell’s Child and Dependant Care Services (entered by My Family Care)
    One in 10 of this energy firm’s employees are expatriates, so this entry focused on one aspect of its broader parental support programme. Shell staff often move locations, so frequently have little or no family support. This initiative enables staff to call on experts, face-to-face, to discuss their caring needs and select those most appropriate for them. Since it was launched in April 2007, more than 1,000 staff have used the service – nearly 12.5% of the entire workforce.
  • UK Border Agency/Home Office Childcare Vouchers (entered by Accor Services)
    When it comes to protecting the UK’s borders, it is vital that staff are at work when they are meant to be. Employees have also moved to a system where they work on one case from start to finish. So, overall, continuity is crucial for the organisation. The use of a range of flexible working practices, along with childcare vouchers and a holiday play scheme, is therefore vital for the UK Border Agency to achieve its objectives. As many as 47% of staff work flexibly, indicating an effective scheme for its needs.