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Podcast Episode 3

Can you work part-time in the frontline? Demonstrating the art of the possible.

Detective Constable Nisha Chandra of the London Metropolitan Police Force has recently returned to work after maternity leave. Julie Snell, a nurse at Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, chose to return part-time, after taking early retirement, for the ‘friends and the steps’.

At either end of their career cycle, both share something unusual in common: they have unique working patterns in shift-based roles. How easy is it to work part-time or ‘differently’, when you are part a greater roster system, involving hundreds of people and a variety of patterns? Julie and Nisha discuss the nitty gritty of how they make it work, how things are changing in their sectors and their hopes for the future. 

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Transcript

[Music]

0.04

Claire: When I say part-time worker, what comes into your head, a mum returning to work after having a baby, someone who lacks ambition, someone in a junior role? You wouldn’t be alone in thinking any of those things. But you would need to think again. Work has gone through dramatic changes over the last few years. And it’s time to bring the picture of part-time working in Britain up to date.

8 million people work part-time in the UK. Part-time is of vital importance to our economy. It keeps people in work when otherwise they’d have to leave and enables them to keep saving for the future. It can also lead to better work-life balance, greater engagement and productivity, progression and the opportunities to develop other areas of your life. But only when the part-time working itself is a good experience.

I’m Claire Campbell. I’m CEO of Timewise, a social enterprise that believes flexible working is possible in any role and makes for healthier, fairer workplaces. In this podcast, brought to you by Timewise and the longevity think tank, Phoenix Insights, we’re identifying and celebrating the elements that make for a good part-time job. We’ll listen to some candid conversations from people who work part-time and have made it work for their employer, their career, their development, and their life.

In today’s episode, we speak to Julie Snell, a nurse at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, NHS Foundation Trust, and Nisha Chandra, a detective constable in the London Metropolitan Police Force. One has worked part-time for over 25 years. The other is fairly new to her part-time journey. We wanted to know how you can have an alternative working pattern when you work in a shift based team and you can’t work from home and you’re serving the public. Is it even possible? Let’s find out.

Julie: I’m Julie, and I live in Norfolk. I’m in my mid 50s now, so I’ve been nursing a long time. I started nursing in 1988 and in 1995 I had my first son, and since then, I’m embarrassed to say, I’ve been part-time and have loved every minute of it.

Nisha: My name is Nisha. I’m 38 years old. I have been with the police for coming up to 10 years this October, and I am currently on what they call a flexible shift pattern, so my hours are compressed. So I’ll do slightly longer days to award me days off during the week so that I can look after my 20 month old son.

Julie: In 1995 I had my first son, and at the time, I could almost negotiate what hours I wanted to work. I worked 24 hours a week, but in three shifts, I think it was then, and I’d work all over the weekend. So I’d do six days of sort of seven hour days, and then have about 10 days off, which was just lovely. Now I’m working 24 hours a week in two shifts, so 12 hour shifts, and these vary from week to week. It doesn’t matter which. But of course, my children are older, but it’s worked for me all the way through bringing up three children. What about you Nisha?

Nisha: So as soon as my son was born, I was obviously on maternity, and so I decided to take the full 12 months, as I was kind of approaching the last quarter of my maternity leave, I decided to submit a flexible working pattern to the team that I’ll be returning to. Now, what that looks like for me, and it’s a whole new world to me, I’ve only ever heard of them, and never mind doing one. So it was daunting. It was a lot of like playing around with Excel spreadsheets. And I hate it. I hate numbers. I hate spreadsheets. So it was a learning curve for me.

I submitted with my husband, actually, he’s also a police officer. We submitted a flexible pattern together, so it kind of bounced off with each other’s shift pattern. So instead of doing 8, 9 hour days, I am doing 10 hour days. So every Monday, I get off with my son, and then every Wednesday and Thursday, my husband is off with my son. So every Tuesday and every Friday, he’s at nursery. So it kind of worked really well for us. And touch wood, the work life balance is great.

Julie: That sounds amazing. It sounds complicated, but amazing.

Nisha: Yeah, the complications, like I said, Excel spreadsheet. Oh, my God, I don’t like them at all.

Julie: You just can’t change it now, you’re stuck now because, like, hard work to change it.  

Nisha: I know, right, like all the effort that it took to actually submit, I’m like, it better stick. What about you and in your organisation? How? How does one go about submitting a flexible working pattern?

Julie: I’ve been doing it a long time, but I’ve actually retired and returned, and I just said to them what hours I wanted to work, and yeah, they just sort of fitted in. I don’t remember signing any forms as such. I think it’s quite easy at the moment, because there aren’t enough staff. So you can more or less have what you want, because they’re so glad to have you. Part-time working is definitely the way to go when you’ve got young children. I don’t know how, I don’t honestly know how people do it with the cost of childcare.

05.29

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05.33

Julie: So in the police force, they’re obviously struggling for staff, and I think there’s a big, there’s quite a big problem with people leaving the force. The same as with the NHS. It’s just not easy work to do. So have you found with your colleagues, it’s been a straightforward with them in sorting out a flexible working pattern?

Nisha: I’m gonna say me, personally, like it’s been great. However, I know at least two colleagues of mine who are in a similar boat, and one’s had not a great experience, and the other one had to kind of somewhat justify a little bit more as to what shift she wanted to do. And that’s not to say it will be rejected, but it needs to fit the business needs. So for me, they told us from the very start that we will accept, obviously, longer working days, but 12 hour shifts are a no no, and that’s fine. I get it. So, you know, I’m appreciative for them letting you know beforehand, so I can meet them halfway. If I can’t do 12, then I’ll do 10. It works for me. It still gives me the balance, but other people’s experiences, and some have been positive, some have been negative, but not negative in a way that it’s been a complete rejection. So it’s just that little bit more tweaking that goes into the whole process.

Julie: I know what you mean, because I know that staff, some staff, because of childcare, have set shifts. So their shifts, when they’re sorting out the rota, their shifts come first because they’re like the sort of base, the base level, and then everyone else is fitted in around them. And I know that people have grumbled that, because of the flexible working, their work has become less flexible, if you know what I’m saying.

Nisha: And within your organisation, I know you briefly mentioned it before about the decision making of shift patterns. Does the shift pattern vary from ward to ward and like, who is the ultimate person that decides that? Does it vary on a week by week basis?

Julie: We have someone who’s a, she’s a lay person that comes in, and she’s paid to do the rota. Yeah, she goes by what my line managers say. So it is probably across the hospital that your line managers decide. However, I do think there is a bit of discretionary stuff. You know, it’s at their discretion. If you say to them, you know, actually, I mean next year, for example, next year, I’m going to ask them, I’ve got a granddaughter now, whether I can have just one day or for a week to make sure that I’m there to do, to give childcare. And I’m hoping, because I’ve been there a long time and I work hard and I’m never off sick, I’m hoping they’ll go along with that, because I think there is an element as working, you know, with people’s discretion and how well you’re thought of as well. I know people that have gone, you know, if they haven’t got what they want, they’ve gone higher and and sometimes have moved from one ward to another to get the working patterns they want. And what about you? What? Who do you go to sort out your shift pattern?

Nisha: Ultimately, like the final decision of whether your compressed, annualised or part-time role is gets approved, is with the commanding officer of whatever department you’re at. So you input the shift patterns you want. Your actual shift patterns for all the teams, whether you’re like in the forensic team, or CID or anything, it’s all pre done by HR. So you’re in for the whole year for the next 12 months, and that’s already inputted onto our booking on and booking off system at the beginning of the shifts and at the end of the shifts. So if for whatever reason, it needs to be changed, your first line manager can do that. When you mentioned about how some people within your place of work get, not the flexibility, but they get kind of like first dibs on shifts, and everyone else works around them, with us, it’s completely different. So your shifts are kind of set in stone, and then if someone you know has a flexible pattern, then that kind of just embeds into the current shift pattern anyway.

Julie: So does that apply to anyone, or just people that come back from maternity leave? Or is it anyone?

Nisha: Anyone. It’s good to know, like, months in advance as well, I think, like what you’re doing or what your team’s going to be doing, so you can turn your life around it, I suppose, like, if I’ve got rest days coming up on a Saturday or Sunday and so does my husband, then, you know, we can go out for the weekend, take the little one to the park or something.

Julie: And what if, what if you were suddenly invited to something, sort of next week. How do you manage that? Can you swap with people?

Nisha: Yeah, you can. So if I was invited to, like a personal event, like a family event next week, if I was working like we do, one in four weekends, so if it was my weekend on which is upcoming this Saturday, I would probably kind of try to work around it, or ask for annual leave. Which is not normally an issue, so it kind of just works, kind of like I don’t want to jix it, but yeah, it’s kind of working.

Julie: Your colleagues who are full time, I don’t know whether you find this, but I find that they’re green with envy that I’m part-time. They, they always say, as I come on shift, you’re always cheerful, you’re always cheerful. And I say, well, that’s because I’m part-time. So I think it does have a bearing. You don’t get sort of bogged down with the sort of day to day. I think the job that I do is probably the same as you, you do a million steps, and it’s exhausting, which, I mean, I still get a bit of, but I don’t know how people do it full time. I don’t.

Nisha: I completely get that. It’s mentally draining as well, isn’t it? It can have a proper detrimental effect on one’s mental health. So it’s being able to find that, I guess, the switch off button.

Julie: Decompression they call it.

Nisha: Yes, I’ll be honest, like before, having my little one and being on the shift pattern that I am like at times I did used to take my work home with me, whether it was physical or whether it was, you know, within my head, constantly thinking about it. But maybe it’s because I’m a mother now, I’ve just got, like, zero tolerance, or little to none. I’m able to just kind of switch off, like I’ll do my work when I’m at work, as soon as it’s time to go right that’s it, I’m done, back to family life, back to my husband, back to my little one. Yeah, I’m able to do that quite well now, I think.

Julie: You’ve got different priorities, haven’t you now?

Nisha: Yeah, priorities change. Priorities definitely change.

12.23

[Music]

12.29

Nisha: I definitely would recommend my career to someone who’s a lot younger than me, simply because it’s a great place to be. No two days are the same, and you get to learn so much, and it makes you very, not only physically resilient, but mentally resilient as well. Also, I know people’s priorities change. When I started the job some 10 years ago, I didn’t want children, that wasn’t part of my life journey. As I progressed, I decided, actually I didn’t, I do want kids, or I do want a child. Never did I ever second guess it. I never was any under any duress or anything thinking, oh God, I want a child. How am I going to manage that with this career that I’ve got, which is 24 hours, go, go, go, go, go. Not once did that cross my mind, because I knew that it would be accommodated from the get go, and that is exactly what is happening so far. There is a place for everybody within the police, and I would highly advocate it.

Julie: When I started, the job sort of evolves with you. As your life changes. You can adapt the job to you, which I think is really good. And like you, no day’s ever the same. Every day is a school day. I mean, you’re still learning. Even though I’m part-time, I still go in and people expect me to know, and I say, oh, I’m not sure about that, but I think it’s, you know, very rewarding. And I think it shows, it’s testament to the fact that you’re doing it with a young baby, and I’m still doing it years and years down the line, part-time, that it’s doable.

Nisha: Yeah, it’s definitely doable. Yeah.

14.06

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14.11

Nisha: So, within your place of work, in your organisation, you being part-time, do you find that it’s easy to progress, kind of promotionally, upwards, or laterally, if you wanted to work in a different department. Do you find that there are opportunities for part-time workers to go on promotion and progress their career?

Julie: Absolutely. I mean, a lot of my seniors are part-time. One of my line managers, she’s part-time, she’s got young children, and absolutely, you can do it. I think possibly because there’s no there’s not a thing about continuity of care, because if you do two shifts that are one end of the week and the other end of the week, it doesn’t continue anyway. I think as long as they’ve got the staff ratio, they’re quite happy for people to go up the ladder.

Nisha: It’s the same for me as well, with a lot of senior leaders, like way up they’re on similar shift patterns or part-time working. And it works, there’s equal opportunities for everybody, irrespective of, you know, your background or your circumstances. And if you are a part-time worker or compressed hours, whichever shift pattern you are, there is, like I said before, there is a place for everybody in this organisation and in this police service. So, so, yeah, absolutely.

Julie: I think it’s about your ability to do the job, whether you’re part-time, full time.

Nisha: And I think there’s this bigger, almost like a stigma attached to it, like only women can do part-time work, or only women can do flexible hours because of childcare or because they’ve had a baby. No, that is not true at all. The amount of male colleagues and male friends that I’ve spoken to within the police service, it’s like, well, you can do it as well because my husband’s doing it, and I know other men that are doing it, like you could help each other out, and you can do it as well. So it lightens the load.

Julie: I think you could say that there has been a stigma with working part-time. I would say that when I had my children, and we’re talking a long time ago, nearly 30 years ago, I would say that I wouldn’t put myself forward for available training courses, because I think someone who was full time was more appropriate for it. I think things have changed now. I think things are really different, and part-time is a very well established way of working now.

Nisha: Once upon a time where, I’m not going to, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, and you know, it’s no offence to anyone that is part-time or flexible, but the proper full timers, do sometimes consider part-time workers as lazy, like, oh, it’s alright for you. You’re only, you’re only here for two days, and you know, we have to pick up the rest of the mess and all that. That’s first thing. That’s a horrible thing to say. Secondly, the world has changed. The way we work changed so much so like before covid versus during covid, versus where we are now. And everyone needs to move with this better way of working, and in order to retain people as well who are excellent workers, excellent officers, excellent nurses. Well, give them what they want. They’ll stay. Just give them, give them what they need. Help them. Help you. At the end of the day, it’s all in a circle, isn’t it, so you’ve got to help each other.  That’s, it’s really important.

Julie: I would say what you just said about the pandemic. I think it’s changed everything. I think it’s shown that things can be done differently. In terms of being flexible, in terms of people being able to work from home and looking after their children. And I don’t think we’ll, I don’t think we’ll look back.

18.00

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18.05

Nisha: In five years time, I see myself still on a flexible, compressed hours shift pattern like I am. You know, it’s working for me. It’s working for the team that I’m on. And, you know, I might not be on the same team, but for me, it’s working, and I will try my best to make sure that it continues to work for my little family. And I’ll continue to advocate that flexible working, part-time working is doable.

Julie: Well, I’m heading for 57. I think maybe if I could do another five years, if I’ve still got the energy, that’s my plan anyway, to keep going for at least another five years. But it suits me. It suits me and I like, I like it, I think keeps you young anyway.

Nisha: Hey, you look bloody great.

Julie: Oh, thanks.

18.53

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18.57

Claire: How great to hear the positive experiences that Nisha and Julie have had. With many of our public services struggling to train and retain the talent they need, let’s hope everyone gets the support Julie and Nisha have had to find the hours which suit them and enables the organisation to continue to benefit from their skills and experience. And finally, if you are a part-time worker, remember you’re in a working arrangement that benefits both parties. Your employer gets access to your great talents and skills for less, you have as much right to training and benefits as your full time colleagues, and if key meetings and socials keep being arranged on the days you count make, don’t be afraid to question it. Work should be a place everyone can develop and thrive.

19.39

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