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Practice managers encouraged to be open-minded about flexible working

by Julie Griffiths
27 June 2022

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Practice managers have been urged to ‘start from a position of “yes”’ when it comes to dealing with requests for flexible working in a new guide by NHS England launched last week.

Two new flexible working guides by NHS England and NHS Improvement were published in collaboration with Timewise and NHS Staff Council – one for line managers and a second for individuals who want to request flexible working in the NHS.

The aim of both guides is to help achieve the ambition of ‘We Work Flexibly’ within the NHS People Promise, so the health service remains an employer of choice.  

The Flexible Working Toolkit for Managers signposts pathways to successfully lead a flexible team, helping practice managers put structures and processes in place so flexible working is an option for all.  

The guide for individuals aims to support employees in preparing for conversations around flexible working requests. It offers guidance on the ways to find a solution that works for them and their organisation. 

The Flexible Working Toolkit for Managers urges employers to ‘start from a position of “yes”’.  It says that ‘working flexibly needs to become “simply the way we work” in the NHS’.

The guide is designed to support employers’ existing organisational policy on flexible working.

One of the benefits of flexible working, it says, is boosting recruitment and retention rates, as well as helping inclusion and diversity.

The toolkit supports practice managers in considering a variety of flexible working patterns, such as flexi-time, compressed hours, and annualised hours, as well as remote working.

It asks managers to be ‘open-minded’ when it comes to considering flexible working for those in patient-facing roles, explaining that there may be options to work different hours or undertake remote work for certain elements of a role. And it provides examples of how this has worked for some in patient-facing roles.

These include holding one-to-one appointments and clinics via phone or video conferencing, to allow patients to be seen remotely, and splitting shifts between two workers.

The guidance contains templates for team discussions about flexible working and it also offers tips on how practice managers can successfully lead a flexible team.

It is intended to complement the draft flexible working definition and principles published by NHS England and NHS Improvement and the NHS Terms and Conditions Handbook for England and Wales.

  • Are there core times when people need to attend key meetings or see patients?   
  • Are there any important deadlines to be met?  
  • What are the expectations of your patients/service users in terms of response time?  
  • Can anyone else provide cover if the individual is unavailable at certain times?  
  • Can you use technology to support flexible working in different ways, and to keep people involved and informed?
  • Are other members of the team willing and able to support aspects of the work without it becoming a burden to them? For example, is there an opportunity to support personal/career development?   
  • Could a job share, or job split, be formed? Is there anyone else in scope?   
  • Identify needs and benefits – outline how your preferred way of working could be beneficial to both you and your team and/or organisation
  • Think of any concerns that your manager might have about your proposed changes, and come up with possible solutions
  • Be flexible and willing to compromise
  • Consider communication  – show how you will communicate with your team or manager, and suggest practical steps to make this work smoothly
  • Manage performance expectations – if you are planning to reduce your hours, you may want to suggest how your targets or output measures could be reduced to reflect this
  • Plan in regular reviews to take account of changing circumstances and needs
  • Talk to your line manager about how you will access time for formal and informal training and development

Management in Practice is holding an event in Liverpool on 7 July. Sign up here to get your free place and hear sessions on  QOF, how to have difficult conversations in your practice, an update on NHS pension changes, tackling health inequalities and more.