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Over the past five years, our council has seen levels of sickness absence among managers rise steeply. We have hear...
Over the past five years, our council has seen levels of sickness absence among managers rise steeply. We have heard that flexible working can help to tackle it, but we don't know where to start. Does anyone have any practical advice?

Caroline Tapster

Chief executive, Hertfordshire CC,

and Solutions Exchange panelist

Flexible working could help. It helped Hertfordshire reduce sickness absence, strengthened recruitment and retention, increased the diversity of its workforce and improved productivity. But it isn't easy. There are four things to focus on.

First, it is the law that carers and people with young children should have access to flexible working. Go further - make it available to everyone, and tell them you are doing this. This ensures it is not 'ghettoised' for mothers and carers only.

Second, it cannot be done in isolation but needs to be part of a cultural change to tackle long hours and introduce strong performance management.

Third, have the monitoring in place from the start. You are changing the working culture of generations, so there can be a tendency to slide back into the deskbound 9-5. Good monitoring helps identify and challenge blockages, increase support where necessary and prove the business case.

Finally, train all your managers, starting at the top. It is too easy to promote the benefits to staff without preparing managers to deliver on the organisation's promise, or to consider their own flexible working options.

We would like to do more work to support people caring for elderly or sick relatives. How can we go about giving carers a voice?

Liz Williams

Chief executive, Carers' Centre, Sefton MBC

The Carers' Centre began as an informal forum and we soon realised there was a lack of facilities to support carers. Sefton MBC's social services department was approached for funding to help the centre become a one-stop shop for information and support. Sefton received a beacon award last month for best practice in supporting carers.

To begin a project like this, you need to consult with carers and social services at an early stage. Every centre operates in a different way and provides different services tailored to the needs of the catchment area.

Look at what other organisations are doing within the council - find out what is already available and which needs are not being met. The Carers' Centre consulted with carers to identify their needs and fed the information to the council.

The centre provides a wide range of services, from looking after the carer's health to counselling and practical matters. That is why carer support should collaborate with other agencies, primary care teams and social services.

One difficulty is reaching hidden carers, such as relatives or spouses. The centre supports 6,700 carers but we estimate there are five times that number in the area. Often they feel it is their duty to look after loved ones and do not recognise themselves as carers, so do not realise they are entitled to support.

A key issue is marketing - letting people know the support is there and available to them. Primary care teams are useful for this and local GPs are a good contact point.

It is important to support carers because the community care system would collapse without them.

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