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New NHS flexible Working Rights to Improve Work-life Balance and Retain Staff

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An agreement on ​​new flexible working rights aimed at giving NHS staff a better work-life balance is announced today (Tuesday) by health unions and NHS employers. The deal will make it easier for workers to request flexible working arrangements. This includes a right to do so from ​the first day staff are employed in the NHS. […]

This is expected to help the NHS recruit and retain health workers. The agreement comes at a time when many health employers and ​their staff are beginning to consider new ways of working. ​The government has ​already promised a consultation on work flexibility for all UK workplaces.

Poor work-life balance is often given as a key reason for employees wanting to leave the health service. The extra demands of the pandemic have left staff exhausted with many re-evaluating their priorities and considering leaving the NHS.

To tackle this, health unions and NHS employers have agreed ​several new flexible measures to encourage staff to continue their careers in health. The provisions will apply in England, Scotland and Wales, with similar measures expected to follow in Northern Ireland.

New Contractual Terms

The new contractual terms will allow staff to:

  • Request flexible working from the start of their employment (removing the requirement to have six months’ service)
  • Make an unlimited number of applications for flexible working, instead of just one a year
  • Submit applications without having to justify requests or provide specific reasons
  • ​Access a process ​where managers must refer ​on requests that cannot be accommodated initially to ensure all possible solutions are explored.

Employers will be expected to promote flexibility options for all jobs at the recruitment stage​ and discuss them regularly with all staff in one-to-one meetings, team discussions and appraisals.

Health employers will also work with unions to develop, agree and offer a broader range of flexible working arrangements. In addition, they will ​monitor and examine what happens to requests ​made across their organisations.

Views Across Board

Chair of the health unions on the NHS staff council

Chair of the health unions on the NHS staff council and UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The pandemic has put so much strain on the lives of NHS workers that many are re-evaluating their priorities. Rigid shifts and long hours mean staff often miss out on valuable quality time with family or the chance to pursue outside interests.

“Some choose to take ​on agency or bank work because ​that allows them to control how ​they arrange their lives. But this also mean​s losing out on pay, job security, career opportunities and other benefits of being part of the ​NHS.

“Flexible working does happen in the NHS. But this new agreement will make it a more realistic option for staff in all roles. ​However, it will only be effective if chronic staff shortages issues are addressed ​too.”

Chair of the employers on the NHS staff council

Chair of the employers on the NHS staff council and director of workforce and organisational development at Manchester and Trafford Local Care Organisation, Jon Lenney said: “It’s fantastic to see the NHS leading the way in supporting flexibility in the workplace and becoming a modern employer of choice.

“The jointly agreed changes to contractual terms and conditions will enable employers to build on innovative flexible working practices that have been delivered during the Covid-19 pandemic. This will not only help attract new talent into the NHS but also support staff to stay in work at a time when retention of our valued workforce has never been more important.

“Employers will continue to work in partnership with unions to bring the ambitions of the NHS People Promise to life by cultivating cultures that promote and enable effective flexible working practices; so that flexibility is a lived reality for all NHS staff.”

Chief executive of NHS Employers

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, said: “Employers will welcome this agreement on contractual improvements on the right to flexible working that has been jointly agreed with unions via the NHS staff council.

“Our members understand that there is more work to do to make sure the NHS People Promise can be fully implemented, and to ensure that flexible working practices are available to all NHS staff.

“Forthcoming guidance will support line managers to enable all staff to make use of effective flexible working practices. This is a key plank of the focus in the People Plan on improving our workplaces across the NHS.”

Chief People Officer at NHS

Prerana Issar, chief people officer at NHS England and Improvement said: “Our staff have had a year like no other and the NHS has been there to support them too – from a mental health hotline and text service, direct support at work through mental health and wellbeing hubs, as well as flexible working options so that where possible, colleagues can work shifts that suit their busy lives.

“We’re delighted to be working alongside the NHS staff council to further embed flexible working for our staff that will not only benefit our existing colleagues, but will also be vital in helping us to attract more people and grow our workforce in even more diverse, inclusive ways.”

Notes to editors: 

  • The new rights will be effective from 13 September ​2021. Employers and unions are working to revise and update existing local policies and work on the changes needed.
  • The NHS staff council is responsible for the NHS pay, terms and conditions system known as Agenda for Change. It is made up of NHS employers and nationally recognised unions, with government health departments also represented. The 13 recognised unions for staff covered by Agenda for Change are the British Association of Occupational Therapists, British Dietetic Association, British and Irish Orthoptic Society, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, College of Podiatry, Federation of Clinical Scientists, GMB, Prison Officers Association, Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing, Society of Radiographers, UNISON and Unite.
  • A joint statement on behalf of the staff council is here.
  • The agreement delivers on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) campaign Flex From 1st for a day-one right to flexible working.

Media contacts:
Anthony Barnes M: 07834 864794; E: a.barnes@unison.co.uk
Helen Mooney M: 07485 303663; E: helen.mooney@nhsconfed.org
Owen Taylor M: 0785 769 9831; E: owen.taylor3@nhs.net


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How to Offer Your Staff the Right Kind of Flexibility

The word “flexible” is broad, and could mean a flexible location, flexible hours, an ethos of flexibility, and many other things that is peculiar to each organization and employee.

Consider these tips to determine what flexibility means to your workforce so you can make sure that policy changes are relevant. But first, take a step back and look at what workplace flexibility could mean.

What Flexibility Means In 2021

Flextime. This can be remote working and ability to set hours outside of the traditional 9-to-5 timeslot. Or, allowing compressed work schedules, which let employees complete the usual 40 hours in fewer than five workdays.

Location. Ability to work outside of the office, like during the pandemic. Or in a hybrid work environment where employees have control over how many days a week they show up in person.

Reduced schedule. Programs such as job sharing and phased retirement give employees a chance to step back from full-time employment while still working at your organization.

Paid Time Off (PTO). A generous—or even unlimited—amount of paid for time, when employees have the freedom to take (and use) the time they need to be productive (doing work or non work related activity).

Finding Out What Flexibility Means To Your Staff

1. Gather information. Start by conducting a survey to get a sense for what your staff wants out of a flexible workplace. Ask specifically about the above workplace policies, what they’ve liked or haven’t liked about remote work, and how their productivity has been affected since having the freedom that remote work provides.

You can continue the conversation by setting up company town hall meetings, focus groups, or one-on-one discussions to dig deeper into what your staff wants.

2. Consider industry trends. On top of employee preferences, there might be certain flexible work policies that are more relevant to your organization than others. For example, if onsite work is required, you can’t offer remote work but could still opt for flextime.

You can also ask other organizations if they’ve taken steps to make work more flexible for their employees and consider how those policies would apply to your own workforce.

3. Shadow employees and reassess. Once you implement your own brand of workplace flexibility, see how your workforce responds. How has productivity been affected? What is the feeling around the office? Have you noticed any roadblocks that you didn’t consider during your knowledge-gathering stage?

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No One Wants To Work Too Much. So Why Do We Do It?

Many people have an inaccurate beliefs about their workload. Here are a few pointers to address this.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Get more done in the same amount of time by learning to work more efficiently. Better manage distractions and attention seeking activities. Learning a comprehensive workflow management system is another way to get more done in less time. 

Ultimately your own work-life balance is completely up to you. No one can “give you” better balance. You have to take it.

Question Assumptions

Stop thinking that other people expect you to be available all the time. Also, trying to conform to the expectations that other people have for you is exhausting and ultimately futile.

You Have a Habit of Distraction

Your most important resources are not your time or your money or even your attention. Your most important resources are your body and your mind.

Manage checking your communication channels during workday every 1-3 minutes. Else, you get conditioned and wont be able to “shut it off,” workday, work week or at your personal time.

You Have Control

Studies show that a boss’s work-life balance is an important factor in the work-life balance of their employees, and that if all better utilize downtimes, everyone will likely to be physically and emotionally healthier.

Recommended: The Third Space according to Adam Fraser is the transitional gap in between what we do. It’s not what we do, it’s what we do in between what we do that is most important.


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