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Flexible working in the NHS: the case for action

Poor work-life balance is a significant contributory factor to NHS difficulties with recruiting and retaining staff. In this report, we look at how a fresh approach to flexible working could help to solve the staffing crisis.

NHS doctor
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The staffing crisis in the NHS has the organisation close to breaking point. Large numbers of staff are leaving, with many citing work-life balance as their main reason. And recruitment is challenging, with huge numbers of unfilled vacancies. As a result, agency costs for locums and temporary staff are spiralling.

Flexibility could help to tackle these issues, yet there is no clear definition of what flexible working means within the NHS. The organisation currently tends to operate on a request-response model, in which flexibility is seen as a problem to be accommodated rather than a way to meet the non-work needs of their staff. The variety of roles and ways of working in the NHS adds further complexity, with different solutions needed for shift-based working.

Timewise research into flexible working with the NHS

In the last year, Timewise has begun working with a range of NHS Trusts to scope how flexible working can enhance their ability to retain staff. We are also conducting an action research project to help NHS Trusts retain nurses within a 24/7 workplace.

Three part action plan

Timewise recommends that the NHS implements a three-part Action Plan for Flexibility, to drive sustainable change

1. Define what flexibility means

The NHS needs to develop a clear definition and vision for flexible working

2. Design flexible job roles

The next step is to create flexible job design options for each profession, job role and specialty.

3. Develop a flexible culture

Organisational cultures which drive and promote flexible working at team level will be essential for the changes to be successful.

In this report, we recommend a fresh approach to redesigning NHS jobs and working practices, taking into account the specific clinical and operational constraints in each profession, job role and specialty. This innovative approach to flexible job design will create role-specific flexible options, for staff at all levels, and will help the NHS to:

  • Reduce the number of people leaving
  • Reduce the amount spent on agency staff
  • Attract new staff
  • Improve the gender pay gap and help women progress
  • Promote local workforce inclusion and become an anchor institution.

The potential impact on the NHS staffing crisis

Flexible working, done well, could help the NHS to deliver a 24/7 environment which works for all their staff, whatever their other responsibilities. The result would be a dramatic increase in the organisation’s ability to attract, nurture, develop and keep its hard working, talented people.

Published July 2018

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