Comment

24.03.17

A flexible future

Source: NHE Mar/Apr 17

Many organisations in the public sector will be publishing their annual progress reports on the public sector equality duty. Are the needs of employers and employees becoming closer aligned? NHE asked an employer and an advocate for flexible working for their views.

Employers’ perspective 

Dean Royles, director of human resources and organisational development at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “It seems to me that when it comes to equality and diversity, it is often issues that create a national debate not seeming directly related to the workplace that jolt employers to make a step change in the way they approach workplace issues, rather than rely on steady incremental progress. 

“The report into the murder of Stephen Lawrence had this impact in respect of institutional racism and the way employers thought about race discrimination in the workplace. I’m sure the vote on Brexit will have a similar impact when it comes to flexible working. Why? Because I believe employers will have to work harder and smarter to retain and attract top talent. I believe Brexit will fundamentally change the way we think about labour market dynamics and solutions to workplace problems, and that there will be a 'first to market' premium for those employers that actively seek to recruit staff who want to work part-time or flexibly. Despite all the legitimate anxiety about Brexit, it is also an opportunity to change the way we think about work. 

“Don’t get me wrong, there is some fantastic practice in the public sector and we don’t emphasise that enough. The NHS, for example, probably has more part-time professional staff than any other sector. That diversity, however, is not so evident at the top level in clinical roles as well as managerial and leadership roles. I believe we will need to fundamentally change our game about flexible working. We all have policies and procedures that allow staff to request flexible working, and by and large we do our best to accommodate it where we can. But it is a tactical rather than a strategic response to the issue. The right to request means staff have to be active and employers can remain passive. This can make staff that want to work flexibly feel awkward raising the question, and it can be easier to move elsewhere. It’s lose-lose. My guess is that over the next few years, public sector employers will see being at the forefront of welcoming flexible work as a key competitive advantage rather than an issue of simple legal compliance. If we are to retain and attract top senior talent, a move to more actively promoting and encouraging flexible work rather than responding if asked will be an essential part of employer brands.” 

Candidates’ perspective 

Kirstie Stott, director of The Inspiring Leaders’ Network and Equilibrium, said: “As we know, health and social care are radically transforming the way in which we work together to provide care for the public. Sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) dominate high-level and strategic conversations about how we need to work differently, to integrate, collaborate and work in partnership. However, from conversations I have been part of recently, it seems to me that whilst the strategic level conversations are happening, there appears to be a lack of translation into what I would say are the fundamental things in any effective system: people, culture and behaviours. 

“Thinking about the transformation required, it seems evident to me that we need a fresh way of thinking. To enable that, we need to all take responsibility for facilitating, nurturing and supporting talent within both our organisations and the wider system, ensuring it is diverse and that we support the needs of our workforce to ensure we don’t exclude people from the market. 

“To enable the full range of talent across the labour market we need to rethink what we need, and how we can attract, recruit and retain staff. We know that if people feel valued they do a good job, they go the extra mile and they are more productive at work. 

“When people come to the job market and apply for a position in an organisation, we want them to feel confident, and to bring out the best in them, enabling them to demonstrate their potential and value. However, for those people (for whatever reason) who are unable, or choose not to work a traditional nine-to-five role, we instantly make them feel less able by forcing them to have to ask if flexibility is an option. This creates stigma around flexible working, and people tell us that by having to ask, it makes them feel less able to fulfil the role, less committed to the role and ultimately undervalued – not the ideal starting position, and not how we want our organisations to make people feel.

“Some of our clients tell us frequently that most mid- to senior-level jobs, clinically and managerially, are advertised as full-time, and the 37.5 hours over five days for a lot of people creates association with frustration, exclusion and disappointment that such a huge organisation as the NHS still functions in such a traditional way around recruitment and talent management.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@nationalhealthexecutive.com

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