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Developing an outstanding flexible working practice for an NHS trust

How Timewise helped the Christie NHS Foundation Trust tackle recruitment and retention challenges, and create a reputation for proactively encouraging a positive work-life balance, through flexible working.

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust comprises a specialist cancer hospital based in Withington, Manchester, with satellite centres at Oldham and Salford. It is also a founding partner of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, alongside with Cancer Research UK and University of Manchester.

The Trust employs over 3,000 employees and was the first NHS high-energy proton beam therapy centre in the UK, providing an advanced form of radiotherapy.

The challenge

All NHS Trusts face challenges with recruitment and retention, as there are fewer people than there are roles that need filling. Additionally, NHS Staff survey results highlighted that the Trust was not perceived by staff to be open to flexible working, even though there were some pockets with excellent provision.

The HR team at the Christie came to Timewise because they wanted to proactively address these challenges. they also wanted to differentiate their organisation from other local trusts as a great place to work, which proactively encourages a positive work/ life balance.

The solution

The team felt that their reputation for delivering outstanding patient care needed to be mirrored by one of delivering outstanding staff care. They wanted to develop a proactive approach to flexible working which was open to all, whatever their personal circumstances, and to be known to be supportive of staff engagement, wellbeing and work life balance.

Following a recommendation, they approached us to support them in a programme to develop a more flexible culture and practice.

The process

The programme began with a kick-off workshop, hosted by Timewise and attended by a project team made up of a cross-section of senior managers from across the Trust. We then carried out an audit of the Christie’s flexible culture, data and policies, and some staff engagement sessions.

Using the feedback from these sessions, we then ran a visioning workshop with the project team, helping them understand their current position on the Timewise Flexible Maturity Curve and where they wanted to get to. This was followed by an action planning workshop with the project team. We then supported the creation of a flexible working action plan which set out clear goals for the next two years.

Learnings, outcomes, and the impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has put the implementation of the action plan on hold, and so limited the learnings that have been gathered at this stage. However, it has also helped remove some of the barriers to flexible working that had previously existed, and encouraged a perception that flexible working can be made to work.

Early learnings from the programme to date include:

  • The value of insights delivered by proactive engagement. The Christie HR team felt they knew that flexible working was happening in some parts of the Trust, but the staff engagement sessions, highlighted pockets of flexible excellence that had been going on under their radar. These are now being followed up and shared with the rest of the organisation.
  • The variety of flexible working arrangements that could be considered. The discussions broadened the understanding of what flexible working means, the fact that it isn’t just about working part-time, and the different ways that it could be applied to different roles and teams. For example, staggering start and finish times; allowing finance teams to work more hours at month- and year-end, and fewer at other times.

Goals written into the action plan include:

  • Producing case studies of best practice flexible working.
  • Establishing a flexible working ambassador in each division.
  • Ensuring the e-roster is used to full capability including team-based and self-rostering.
  • Advertising all roles ad available to flexible working patterns, and updating standard job descriptions and templates to match.

Setting up a flexible working/job share pool to help staff buddy up and share roles.

The client’s view

Working in partnership with Timewise to expand our flexible working practice was a real success. It was so helpful to have an external insight into our flexible status and what we needed to do next, and we felt confident about being guided by their expertise. As well as hands-on support for each of the programme stages and events, they were responsive and helpful with any questions or issues we uncovered, and felt like a part of our extended team.

Natalie Marshall, Head of Operational HR, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust

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