Team-based rostering project ‘improves nurses’ work life balance’

An innovative team-based rostering project for nurses shows improvements in work life balance.

flexible working nhs


A one-year trial in three UK hospitals has shown how the NHS could introduce more work life balance for nurses through team-based rostering.

The “Improving nurses’ work-life balance” report details the findings from an innovative one-year pilot conducted with 240 NHS nurses across seven wards in three UK hospitals. 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 and to offer flexible working to all equally.

The report found that ‘Flexible Working Arrangements’ or FWAs are currently ‘rationed’ with those who need flexibility due to childcare are 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.

Timewise says research shows only around half (52 per cent) of all nurses in the UK are happy with their working hours. Work life balance is also a consistent reason given for resignations.

In the 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) by the end.

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

Using 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 approach works as follows:

  • It does not prioritise one reason for needing flexible working over another: instead it focuses on each nurse’s working pattern preferences, regardless of reason
  • It shares responsibility collectively for creating the roster and filling any gaps, giving nurses the autonomy and permission to make changes.
  • It opens up a conversation about nurses’ long-term preferences for the way they work, and uses this information to create the roster. Timewise says 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.
  • It assumes that all nurses have work-life needs – not just those with a flexible working arrangement

The results show 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 percentage points, from 16 to 36 per cent, with many reporting that they understood their colleagues’ work-life needs and lives better.

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