Flexible working and the NHS: how does it work?

Flexible working is possible in any job, but how does it function in frontline jobs in the NHS when employees may not have the option to work from home? 

NHS worker


During the Covid pandemic the idea that flexible working simply means working remotely has become prevalent, when in reality that is only one of may different ways of working flexibly.

Flexible working encompasses everything from giving employees the choice of selecting their preferred working hours and doing job shares to the possibility of going part time. Many, of course, cannot work flexibly, particularly those frontline workers on whom we have so depended over the last months. 

At last week’s Flexpo conference one session focused on how to make flexible working more available to NHS workers. The demand is great amid rising burnout and growing skills shortages. While Covid has exacerbated these issues, dissatisfaction levels due to poor life-work balance were high even before Covid-19, with over 56,000 people leaving their role within the NHS during 2011 to 2018 citing poor work-life balance.

In response, on 29th June health unions and NHS employers announced an agreement on new flexible working rights to improve their staff’s work-life balance. This will come into effect from 13th September.

The new agreement aims to normalise flexible working and give all NHS staff access to a flexible working option from day one of their employment. Current legislation only allows people to request flexible working after six months in a job. Also, NHS workers will be able to put in an unlimited number of requests for flexible working rather than just one per year and they will not be required to justify why they are requesting it. Furthermore, a process will be put in place for managers to notify HR if requests cannot be approved immediately so that different options can be explored to meet the employee’s needs.

Challenges and benefits of flexible working

Flexpo heard that there are still challenges to address around quick and effective communication of rota changes and that it is important that managers listen to employees’ feedback when they are testing and trialling different working options.

The benefits are clear in terms of tackling skills shortages and making the NHS more resilient as well as delivering  higher performance, increasing their satisfaction with their job and reducing work-related stress.

Claire Campbell, Programme Director at Timewise, told Flexpo that it is important when considering flexible working that managers look first at the requirements of a job and then at the way it can be done and who does it. It is also important in client-facing roles to ask whether clients requires a person to be face to face all the time or not. When it comes to the NHS, for instance, it is not always necessary to have in-person appointments or to have the same nurse or doctor throughout since they will be on different shifts.

Although the pandemic has pushed key workers to their limits, there has been a silver lining. It has shown that certain tasks that the NHS previously conducted in person can be carried out remotely. That has and will lead to a demand from workers for more flexibility.


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