Our penultimate working lunch was scheduled to focus on supporting people with caring responsibilities. It was certainly a theme, but as has become the practice at these events, the ebb & flow of conversation took us in many directions.

Among PTP regulars Naomi Walsh from Real Ideas and Ellie & Anna from the Plymouth Charter, we were also joined  by Jason Creed from the DWP, Emily Lyons from the NHS, Jonathan Keable from Business  Success, and Stuart Foren from Odils. A broad group indeed which promised a lively session.

What made this session slightly different from others we have previously hosted was that it flowed directly from a conversation (supported by The Plymouth Charter) about inclusive apprenticeships. This meant although we had a plan to discuss those with caring responsibilities, the connection to apprenticeships and supporting young people was at the front of people minds.

The opening question asked what the groups experience in handling matters was relating to care for loved ones by people within their team. Several personal stories were told before Jonathan started to speak plainly about the employers point of view. He suggested that a business was not a charity and that there were limits to what employers should do or be expected to do.

This sort of contribution came from a different place to the typical tone of message within these lunches. The inference was that perhaps businesses do not necessarily consider the benefits that come with employing a person with caring responsibilities, or at least, if they did, they might be quickly outweighed by the extra challenges of employing them. Perhaps this applies in other areas?

The challenge back from the group was that if you are going to employ people, one needs to consider the whole person, not just what they bring to work. A degree of give and take is required which in turn requires trust. Another possible inference was that employees might take advantage of their circumstances in order to do less. This idea harks back to our first lunch of the year when Alison (from Alexandra House Day Nursery) referred to a member of staff who had a long term health issue.

Clearly, there comes a point when a business cannot sustain the ongoing costs of staff members not contributing to the top line or delivery of services. But how does that get determined in a business? The question becomes, how do you start from a position of not assuming the worst scenario before it happens. Loyalty is a complex thing in the workplace.

In the previous conversation, we were joined by Karen Lilley who runs a group of nurseries in Barne  Barton – one of the most deprived parts of the city. She spoke of a sector which typically operates on very fine margins with low paid staff. The room for covering lost days and hours for any reason is limited compared to other sectors. It is apparent that not all businesses are created equal and what a digital marketing firm with a wealthy client list may be able to take extra steps to “do the right thing”, that simply aren’t possible in other environments.

The conversation continued and all those involved got to hear, challenge and learn about the perspective of business leaders, rather than HR personnel. Taking ourselves out of the echo chamber of “this is what we should ALL be doing” and hearing it from someone who represents almost ten thousand businesses with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) served as an important reminder that none of us are blessed with all the facts and have only our own point of view.

Our next working lunch is on Tuesday, March 7th from midday at Market Hall in Devonport. As we are at the end of our funded work, the question we will be discussing is “What Happens Next?”. To join us, click here – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/507450075837.