Flexible working and recruitment after Covid

A Working Families webinar yesterday looked at best practice when it comes to recruitment and flexible working and heard from three employers: Arnold Clark, NELFT NHS Foundation Trust and EY.

woman in wheelchair being taken care of by nurse, with doctor talking to another nurse in background


Covid-19 has made large numbers of working parents – and many others – reconsider their work life balance. A survey by Working Families found 85% say their work life balance is a top priority for them and will influence their choice of work. 

A webinar yesterday as part of National Work Life Week looked at how some employers are responding to the demand for more flexibility.

Louise Pheasey, senior employment engagement adviser at Arnold Clark, said the company had been looking at what it would take to be an employer of choice and how to get access to the best talent and achieve a greater gender balance at work.  Most of the discussions came back to flexible working. Pheasey said the traditional male-dominated, long hours culture was not giving the company a competitive advantage and was putting up barriers to diversity and inclusion. 

So, during the pandemic when many of its employees were working from home, Arnold Clark conducted focus groups to look at how they could best offer flexibility to all employees, including those who cannot work remotely. They have come up with a free-part offer: 

  1. a fully flexible model where people work mostly from home. This might apply to people in IT, software development or wages. They are able to come into work on occasion, but mainly work remotely 
  2. A hybrid model for those who enjoy working remotely, but also like to meet up face to face
  3. A flexible model for those who cannot work from home, such as car showroom workers, but also need flexible working. They can request blocks of flexible paid leave of up to three hours. Managers can turn down a request, but it must be for a genuine business reason. Pheasey said there was no limit on the amount of blocks that could be taken and that implementation had been quite challenging. However, there had been a massive take-up with over 6,000 requests being made since it was launched in July. Most of these had been accepted. Managers receive coaching to understand how the system works. Pheasey said people requesting blocks of leave do not have to give a particular reason. The aim is to avoid people being judged and to stop it being used only by parents or carers.

Arnold Clark also uses Working Families’ happy to talk flexible working logo on its job adverts so people know that they can have those conversations before they start working for the company. Pheasey said before Covid people might bring up flexible working at the interview stage, but now there has been a marked shift and people were directly asking about hybrid and remote working. With its new policy, the company was well equipped to respond to this shift. Pheasey emphasised the importance of listening to employees and showing that you have listened.


Ellie Nicholls, Diversity and Inclusion Leader UKFS at EY, spoke about the importance of storytelling and showcasing the different ways people are working as a way of embedding a flexible culture and ensuring that the onus is not on individuals. She added that flexible working should be as much a part of the recruitment process as negotiations over pay.

However, she said it is important for people to be realistic about the demands of the job they are applying for. In EY there may be busy periods where flexibility might feel like it favours the employer more than the employee. Managers should be transparent about this from the outset.

She added that EY had noticed a change in its clients – post-Covid they are more relaxed about remote and flexible working and not so many feel they need EY staff to be on site. She said more and more dads want to work flexibly too so it is important not to make flexible working a gendered conversation. EY is keeping a close eye, however, on the potential for those not in the office to miss out on networking and opportunities for promotion. Nicholls said it is important to track this and she added that it is important not to make assumptions about who wants to work flexibly and why.

Flexible working in the NHS

Justine Hodge, Recruitment and Retention Lead at NELFT NHS Foundation Trust, said the NHS is facing a real recruitment challenge and, since all trusts have the same terms and conditions, it has to be creative to stand out from the competition. That means looking at its non-paid rewards offering. Eighty per cent of NHS staff are female, the vast majority in the 30-50 age group, meaning they are often parents and/or carers. Many who had left had cited work life balance as their reason to go. Many others work as bank or agency staff to get greater flexibility.

Hodge’s Trust has also seen an increase in interest in working for the NHS since the pandemic and is looking at how it can attract more people in. One way is through greater flexible working. It uses the Working Families happy to talk flexible working logo and puts on its job straplines that even if a job is full time the Trust may be open to talk about flexibility. The Trust changed its policy to allow flexible working from day one, something NHS England now offers across the board.

Hodge spoke of how the Trust is showcasing different ways of working and educating managers to look at the aims of a role rather than focusing wholly on the hours. It has changed its interview templates to incorporate discussions about flexible working and thinking outside the box. For instance, if the top candidate wants to work part time, could the second best candidate make up the hours or perhaps the person could consider compressed hours instead of part time hours [this could have an impact on the gender pay gap too]. Flexible working is also embedded in offer letters; the Trust offers a carer’s passport so a person’s flexible working hours goes with them if they move job or change managers; and flexible working is part of health and wellbeing conversations.

Hodge mentioned that the Trust is still looking at how best to incorporate flexible working, for instance, some nursing courses are full time which makes them hard to access for part timers. She said the trust’s quality improvement team is working on a change programme to tackle flexible working on the wards where continuity of care is an issue. The team is looking to develop a plan, but is in the early stages of its work at the moment.

For Hodge, it is important to celebrate every success and to ensure that the stories being told about flexible working include people from all walks of life so that managers don’t just associate it with being a parent or carer.

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