How the Carers’ Staff Network is breathing new life into flexible working at TfL
Isabel Branco is Chair of the Carers’ Staff Network Group at Transport for London. Together, the network is working to make TfL an even better employer for carers.
When the elections for the Staff Network Groups came up in October 2018, Isabel decided to volunteer to support carers. As Isabel explains, “Carers naturally don’t have very much free time, so the Carers’ Network hasn’t had the same opportunity to grow and reach all the people who might benefit from it. But I do have the time and I also have some experience from working in different staff network groups. I also wanted to encourage people who aren’t carers to join.”
The importance of supporting carers in the workplace
Isabel believes that the positive effects of supporting carers extend way beyond individuals and businesses, benefitting society as a whole. “Each one of us is very likely to become a carer at some point in our lives, and it shouldn’t be an obstacle to having a career. Supporting carers is good for businesses as most people who become carers do so between the ages of 45 and 65 – when they’re at the peak of their career, their capabilities and their knowledge. If they leave work for lack of support, we lose all their experience, as well as any time and money that has gone into training them. And, from an all-encompassing point of view, it benefits society by keeping more people in employment.”
One in seven people in the UK are carers*, but the number is even higher amongst staff at TfL. In fact, Isabel says the latest data shows the figure currently stands at around one in five. “I believe this means TfL is a good employer for carers. But, importantly, it also gives the Carers’ Staff Network a certain weight in terms of lobbying and challenging the business to do even better for our carers.”
Introducing the Carers’ Passport
TfL already has flexible working policies set in place and, thanks to the efforts of the Diversity and Inclusion team and the Carers’ Staff Network, the organisation is implementing new strategies to help those with caring responsibilities.
Isabel explains, “Last year we introduced a new flexible working device called the Carers’ Passport. It’s an informal flexible working arrangement between the carer and their manager that provides short term solutions. For example, if you have an appointment on a certain day, you might put that in your Carers’ Passport and get it agreed with your manager, then you may not need it the next month. The Passport makes it easier to get all that organised. We’ve just had the piloting stage, and now we need to assess how it’s been received, before we can improve it and take it further.”
Focusing on managers
Another tack Isabel and the team are taking is to focus on managers. “Supporting managers is an important part of supporting carers. We need to give them the right information and tools so they can help staff as they go through caring responsibilities. So, we’re looking to provide peer-led training, where managers who have carers in their team talk to other managers about how best to identify and support people.”
Communicating to all carers across the organisation
With over 28,000 people working at TfL, communication is a big challenge for the Carers’ Staff Network Group, especially as staff are split into two areas. “Non-operational staff, like myself, spend most of their time at a desk. However, operational staff, such as train drivers, have very limited access to emails and the intranet. Also, we have many carers who work night shifts to combine work with their caring responsibilities.”
Isabel says that the Network are looking at ways to reach every single carer. “Employers for Carers are supporting us with this, and we also have a number of operational staff in the network group who are advising different approaches. But word of mouth is best – a lot of our work is talking to people and having an honest chat.”
The network’s work is sparking interest and membership has grown by over 10% in just a few months. But the network’s initiatives are also working in practice, proven by enthusiastic feedback from staff across TfL. “It’s really rewarding. People are really energised by our work, and carers are coming forward wanting to help, so it’s growing every day which is really great. And hopefully, together, we’ll get TfL to become an even better place for carers to work.”
Isabel’s advice to carers looking to get back into the workplace:
*Latest data from Carers UK.