• Flexible working pilot used team-based rostering system which gave nurses more input
  • Any reason deemed “worthy” of asking for specific shifts, not just childcare-related reasons
  • Trust reported trial improved retention of some nurses

Policymakers are being called on to expand nurses’ flexible working options after a year-long trial involving more than 200 nurses showed evidence it would improve work-life balance.

The team-based rostering pilot – carried out at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital Foundation Trust, Nottingham University Hospitals Trust and University Hospital Southampton FT and run by flexible working consultancy Timewise – found flexible working arrangements were usually prioritised for staff with childcare responsibilities.

However, the trial – which involved seven wards and 240 nurses and was supported by charity The Burdett Trust for Nursing – established a “lead team” of nurses, who were responsible for identifying the work-life preferences of every nurse on the ward and then putting the roster together. Any reason was deemed “worthy” of asking for flexible working.

The final report – Improving nurses’ work-life balance – found the number of nurses whose work-life needs were being met either “a lot” or “fully” increased from 39 per cent to 51 per cent by the end of the trial.

The research highlighted the interim People Plan’s priority to retain existing nurses and develop flexible working and career development opportunities. It called on national policymakers to introduce e-rostering systems to better support long-term work-life preferences.

“Busy ward managers are currently stuck between a rock and a hard place, having to meet efficiency and cost indicators which they know will impact negatively on staff work-life balance, and trying at the same time to retain their staff by improving their work-life balance,” the report said.

It also called for a better definition of work-life balance for nurses to be embedded in trust-level flexible working policies.

Charlotte Gascoigne, head of research and consultancy at Timewise, said: “All the reports into the workforce crisis in the NHS have one clear message – the inability to find and retain nurses is one of the biggest threats we face.

“From our years of work across many sectors, we know that being able to input into your working pattern – and the sense of control that brings – gives people better work-life balance.”

Culture change

Helen Watson, associate director of nursing at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital, told HSJ the pilot’s flexibility had encouraged some nurses to stay on at the trust when they had previously been thinking of leaving, while one nurse was able to increase their hours.

“They were more assured they would get the shift that matches their work-life balance,” she said. “It’s not without its challenges and you won’t keep everybody happy all of the time but at least if people feel they’ve had more input, that has got to be better.”

Ms Watson added: “Staff don’t want to go back to their previous way of working. We are continuing with it on three wards and it is about rolling out the philosophy behind it – it is a culture change.

“We have to keep staff’s work-life balance at the forefront of our minds.”

HSJ reported earlier this week Milton Keynes University Hospital FT had halved its multimillion-pound agency staff spend after introducing a series of workforce benefits, including an electronic shift booking system.