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PRESS RELEASE: Way to help solve the retention crisis in nursing?

Strictly embargoed until 00:01 25 September 2019

One-year trial conducted with 240 nurses across 7 wards in 3 UK hospitals shows how team-based rostering improves work-life balance.

The “Improving nurses’ work-life balance” report is published today – detailing an innovative one-year pilot conducted with NHS nurses, designed and run by the flexible working specialists Timewise. The aim was to increase the amount of input that nurses have into their roster and improve nurses’ work-life balance.

The report found that ‘Flexible Working Arrangements’ or FWAs are currently ‘rationed’ with those who need flexibility due to childcare prioritised.  This project took the view that all nurses have work-life needs of some kind, and that a more collaborative conversation about balancing everyone’s needs across the team was needed. A ‘lead team’ of nurses was established in each ward to identify the work-life preferences of every nurse on the ward, and then the roster was put together.

Only around half (52 per cent) of all nurses in the UK are happy with their working hours right now1 . With resignations from nurses citing ‘poor work-life balance’ in the UK increasing 169 per cent in 6 years2  – establishing ways to improve work-life balance has become a priority for many NHS Trusts and Chief Nurses.

In this innovative trial, the number of nurses who said their work life needs were being met either ‘a lot’ or ‘fully’ increased from over a third (39 per cent) in the beginning, to more than half (51 per cent)3 by the end.

The process – explaining the project

Supported by The Burdett Trust, Timewise was invited into 7 wards, spanning 3 NHS Trusts, in a project involving 240 nurses,. The smallest ward had 12 nurses; the largest 45.  

The three pioneering participating hospital trusts who took part are: Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital (BWCH), Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) and University Hospital Southampton (UHS).

Timewise has developed a team-based rostering system that increases the input nurses have in choosing and setting their shifts – and which shares the responsibility for covering any gaps between the team as a whole. The notion of parents being automatically prioritised for FWAs (‘Flexible Working Arrangements’) was discouraged.  Instead, any reason was deemed ‘worthy’ of asking for a FWA, and the teams dealt with challenges and issues as a collective.

The team-based approach to rostering4:

  1. Does not prioritise one reason for needing flexible working over another: instead it focuses on each nurse’s working pattern preferences, regardless of reason
  2. Shares responsibility collectively for creating the roster and filling any gaps, giving nurses the autonomy and permission to make changes.
  3. Opens up a conversation about nurses’ long-term preferences for the way they work, and uses this information to create the roster. This additional level of input – overlaid on top of the current system of nurses making a set number of days-off requests each month – gives nurses more opportunity to fit their non-work needs around their work.
  4. Assumes that all nurses have work-life needs – not just those with a flexible working arrangement

The results – clear benefits

  • As previously mentioned, nurses who their work-life balance needs were being met ‘a lot’ or ‘fully’ increased from a third (39 per cent) to just over half (51 per cent)3
  • The proportion who felt they had a good level of input into the roster increased from around 1 in 7 (14 per cent) to more than 1 in 4 (26 per cent).
  • The proportion who reported a sense of collective responsibility improved by 20 per centage points, from 16 to 36 per cent, with many reporting that they understood their colleagues’ work-life needs and lives better.

One Ward Manager, who took part in the project says: “Implementing the new system took many hours at the beginning. But now, looking at the roster we just wrote, it took us just over an hour which was a real accomplishment and achievement.”

Dr Charlotte Gascoigne, who is head of research and consultancy at Timewise says: “All the reports into the workforce crisis in the NHS have one clear message – the inability to find and retain nurses is one of the biggest threats we face. Even more so than budget cuts. From our years of work across many sectors, we know that being able to input into your working pattern – and the sense of control that brings – gives people better work-life balance. This is challenging  in nursing, where there are immense clinical and financial constraints on what is possible in each ward’s roster, so we are thrilled with the positive results from this trial.”

Shirley Baines, Chief Executive at the Burdett Trust, says: “We supported Timewise to undertake this important work because we know improving work-life balance is vital for increasing retention and attraction rates in this vital workforce. We are pleased to see the positive results.”

For more information please contact Jo Burkill:
 t: 0207 633 4553 / m: 07960 472097 / e:


Notes to editors

1 Institute for Employment Studies (2017) Royal College of Nursing Employment Survey

2  Labour party analysis by Jon Ashworth found that nurse resignations for poor work-life balance increased by 169% between 2011-12 and 2017-18 – a higher increase than any other reason

3 Timewise had 53 responses from these NUH & UHS, and 76 from BWCH. Therefore the reported percentages are of 129 people for the post-pilot survey, but 53 people for the comparison of pre and post surveys

4 The system is based on the principals of a wider framework Timewise has developed to try and introduce better work-life balance for employees in shift-based environments, across all industries. It states that the three elements required in order to attain a decent standard of work-life balance are the:

  1. Level of predictability  (i.e. the degree to which working patterns vary from week to week)
  2. Amount of advance notice employees receive
  3. Degree of input / control that they have in the process

About Timewise

Timewise ( are flexible working experts, running a flexible working consultancy that helps employers design innovative solutions to attract and retain talented people, and create fair workplaces.

The consultancy is part of a wider multi-award winning social business, that shares market insights on flexible working and flexible hiring, conducts research such the annual Flexible Jobs Index and runs campaigns and advocates for change on the stigma surrounding part-time and flexible work. It also runs Timewise Jobs ( ), a national jobs board for roles that are part-time or open to flexibility.

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