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Flexible working for NHS staff

Requesting flexible working is a ‘day one’ right for NHS staff working in England and Wales. Find out more about your options and how to make a request.

What’s the agreement on flexible working?

In the NHS flexible working is an arrangement which supports an individual to have a greater choice in when, where and how they work. An agreement negotiated by UNISON and health unions through the NHS Staff Council means that as of 13 September 2021, all employees of NHS organisations in England and Wales have a contractual right to request flexible working from day one of employment.

The agreement also removes limits on the number of requests that can be made and strengthens the processes employers must use when considering requests.

The NHS needs to retain and recruit many more staff to meet the challenges it faces. Offering genuine flexible working is an important way to do this.

The improved provisions we negotiated mean:

  • all employees have the right to request flexible working from day one of employment
  • there is no limit on the number of requests you can make
  • you have the right to make requests and have them considered regardless of the reason
  • organisations must keep a central overview of how requests are being handled and check for fairness and equality of outcomes
  • where you and your line manager haven’t been able to find a solution, there is a further escalation stage to check for other suitable options
  • your line manager should have regular conversations about flexible working with you – without waiting for you to make a formal request

Remember, it’s your employer’s duty to make sure that you can request flexibility from day one and you have every right to raise issues relating to flexible working during your 1-2-1s, appraisals, team discussions or even during informal conversations with your line manager.

The NHS Staff council has produced a number of useful resources to support making flexible working accessible to all staff – no matter what your role. This includes staff working in administrative functions, cleaners, porters, nurses, ambulance staff and OTs (to name a few) and regardless of whether you work a 9-5 or around different shift patterns.

Flexible working – thinking about your options

Flexible working has always been seen as mainly available to those with caring responsibilities but in the NHS flexible working can be requested because:

  • You want a better work-life balance
  • You have caring responsibilities
  • Any other reason!

Some examples of flexible working are listed below but it’s important to remember, you are not limited to these options so think creatively. Some stories from the frontline, of what has been agreed and how much it has changed NHS workers lives, are here to give you some inspiration.

Real-life stories of flexible working

It’s also worth noting, flexible working can be a combination of formal and informal flexible arrangements and you’re not limited in the number of options you choose. For example, you can ask to work reduced hours whilst also staggering those hours.

What does flexible working in the NHS look like?

Some examples of flexible working are set out below:

  • Reduced hours (or part time working) – working fewer hours than you were initially contracted to work
  • Staggered working hours – where staff work a set number of hours during the day but with different start and finish times
  • Term time hours – usually favoured by working parents to work 39 weeks per year within term time and use their annual leave entitlement, plus additional unpaid leave, to have school holidays off work
  • Flexi time – allows you to vary your working hours (which may include your start and finish times) to suit your individual circumstances
  • Team based self-rostering – giving staff control over the pattern of their working week by allowing them to put forward their preferences and trying to match these as close as possible
  • Compressed working week – working your contracted hours over fewer days. For example, working your hours over four days instead of five
  • Working from home – working some or all of your work patterns at home
  • Job share – a form of part-time working where one full-time role is shared between two members of staff. Salary and benefits are divided according to the hours worked

Remember this list is not exhaustive and the new provisions allow you to come up with a whole host of options.

In the NHS flexible working can be requested for:

  • All working days
  • Specific days or shifts only
  • Specific weeks only e.g. during school term time
  • A limited time only e.g. for 3 or 6 months only
  • Permanently

Check out the joint union ‘Let’s Talk About Flex’ site for examples of how these arrangements can work in different job roles.

Things to consider before making a request for flexible working

We know that UNISON members choose to work in the NHS because they care about the services they run and patients they care for. That’s why achieving a balance between your own needs, service delivery and the work-life balance of your colleagues is something that might come naturally to you. It will help if you’ve considered the impact your request might have on your patients and colleagues.

That’s why it’s important for you to be prepared in advance of your discussion with your manager. So feel free to seek advice from your local UNISON branch beforehand. Your local UNISON rep will also be on hand to help you put in appeal or make a new request if your flexible working application has not been accepted this time around.

Top tips for members who want to work more flexibly

  • Read your organisation’s flexible working policy. Remember, UNISON branches are currently working hard to ensure that this policy (and how it’s put into practice) is robust and fit for purpose.
  • Consider all the different ways you might be able to work more flexibly. Consider the impact that your flexible working options might have on your pay, terms and conditions and prepare for conversations with your manager. If you’re not sure, speak to your local UNISON rep.
  • Speak to your colleagues including those working in other teams to find out how they are working flexibly and see if these can be replicated in your own team.
  • Speak to your local UNISON rep if you’re unsure about your options including how to go about applying for flexible working. Remember, your local UNISON branch is always on hand to guide you through making your flexible working application including helping you to put in an appeal if your request has been turned down.
  • Keep an eye out for further info and resources as we add them to this page – including on team-based self-rostering for those of you who work around shift patterns.

Tell us your experiences of flexible working in the NHS

Do you work in the NHS and have a flexible working arrangement in place? If so, we want to hear how it’s working for you!

We’re keen to hear from members working across the entire NHS about the realities of flexible working for staff. Whether you’re a cleaner, nurse or paramedic working shifts, a member of the finance team or working as an OT or ODP (to name a few), we want to hear from you!

Tell us what your working week looks like now and the impact working flexibly has had on your work-life balance. You can also tell us about any obstacles you faced in getting your request agreed, or any other relevant info you would like to share.

By doing this you will be helping us to make flexible working a reality for more of our members working in the NHS.

If you’re happy for us to get in touch with you for the purposes of building our knowledge around flexible working, please share your contact details with us below. UNISON will store your information securely and never share it or use it for any other purpose.

  • Your story will be shared anonymously (unless you give us your contact details below and we discuss whether you're happy to give permission to use your name).
  • (Optional – for UNISON's information only)
  • Please share as much detail as possible including: how long you’ve had a flexible working arrangement in place; how you found the process of requesting to work flexibly; the impact on your work-life balance; obstacles you faced getting your request approved etc.