Staff productivity
Feb 24, 2023

Is flexible working possible in social care?

Mark Topps explores flexible working in social care. Is it possible and if not, what needs to change to make it a reality?

Mark Topps
Mark Topps
Regional Business Manager

Table of contents

I'm an enthusiastic fan of flexible working, stemming from my desire for us all to have a better work-life balance, but is it possible in social care?  

A recent study revealed that working a 4-day week really does reduce stress and illness and helps workers stay in their jobs. The University of Cambridge study included several organisations participating in a 4-day working week pilot programme. Researchers found a 65% reduction in sick days, a 57% reduction in staff turnover and 71% of employees reported lower levels of burnout. The majority of companies taking part in the pilot programme say they intend to carry on with the 4-day working week.  

We need to get rid of the idea that flexible working is just for parents who need to juggle a job around childcare, it is much more than this. Flexible working should be viewed as a chance to embrace a new way of working, meet the demands of potential employees, increase retention and become an employer of choice.  

Organisational barriers

The biggest barrier to introducing flexible working is the existing culture in health and social care. These ways of working do not align with what many people want from a job. For generations the norm has been 14 or 15-hour shifts, employing people who are full-time only and those that can work every other weekend, but we need to move away from this mindset and encourage employees to do their best work, where and when it works for them and the organisation. Not just offering part-time or reducing someone’s hours if they want flexible working.  

Job seekers want (and deserve) flexible working, the younger generations are not only concerned about salary but the other benefits on offer. Could you introduce different shift patterns, one that starts at 9 AM, 10 AM and finish at 1 PM, 3 PM etc? Different shift patterns increase the chances of recruiting more people, shows you're a flexible employer and sets you apart from what is the norm in the sector. Of course, it needs to work for the business and you can still stipulate some of the things you need, such as the requirement to work every weekend.  

Change the culture

Culture change will not fix things overnight as you need time to break down stereotypes, myths and reluctance but here are three tips to consider.

  1. Identify the areas for change – in this case, it's flexible working.  
  1. Develop a plan – how will the change happen, why is the change happening, timeframes, steps, who will be involved and what will the outcome look like?
  1. Communicate the need for change with all the decision-makers within the organisation.  

You may also need to work with hiring managers, directors and CEOs to educate them on the benefits of flexible working. One effective way to do this is by starting small. Encourage running a trail to test how it works for the organisation and build on this. Prior to the trial, establish expectations and how you'll measure success with clear aims, objectives and outputs. Once you can show the benefits and that flexible working works, you can develop a workplace culture where people are judged on the work they do and not on the hours they work.  

A common myth is that we'll need more staff if we allow people to work flexibly, but from my experience this isn't the case.  

Think outside the box

For some roles flexible working will be a lot easier to implement than others. But by putting aside what we know about rotas and shift patterns and thinking outside of the box, we can begin to come up with some solutions. For example, could a care home utilise relative involvement to reduce staffing or could our office-based teams such as HR, IT and admin be hybrid workers? Many providers have staff who are desk-based and don’t need to conform to the 9 to 5 way of life. A lot of progressive organisations outside of social care trust their staff to work flexibly and to get the job done but for many of us in the sector, this will feel very alien. For non-frontline, office-bases staff, surely working when they feel most creative, in a place they feel most comfortable and focused is better for them and the organisation? As managers of care services, we know what it can be like juggling the demands of staff, the people we support and external stakeholders - we all find a day out of the service is productive and this is no different. Talk to your people to establish how you can get the best out of them and their skills to benefit you and your organisation.  

Technology and policy

Technology plays a critical role in enabling remote and flexible work, so consider what equipment, software and communication tools might be of use. Think about how you manage people who are not in the business every day, as there may be processes and policies to revise. A policy alone won't drive change but it will help define the values of your organisation. A good place to start is with your Flexible Working policy, look at whether it encourages requests or give the impression not many people will be eligible.  

Shout about it

A recent study from Timewise revealed that 14 million Brits want flexible working and that few organisations actively promote flexible working in their advertisements. There's no doubt that times are changing and flexible working is no longer a nice to have. We know recruitment and retention are tougher than ever, so this is the time to stand out from the competition, and from other sectors, and become the employer of choice in your area. Include flexible working in your recruitment processes, job adverts and on your social media and, hopefully, you will see an influx in applications.  

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