We can flex

The need for flexible working is ever increasing, and we recognise that offering flexible working can be one of the solutions to health and care sector recruitment and increasing retention rates. Through research and working with Leeds health and care partners we aim to make flexible working accessible where service capacity and operational demand allows.

Leeds health and care partners comprise of NHS, third and independent sector organisations, Leeds City Council and educational institutions. All differ in size, funding and the needs of people that use their services. Using existing guidelines and research we have created a suite of information and materials for line managers, to help encourage and promote the adoption of flexible working within organisations, to showcase ‘the art of possible’ and highlight the benefits of flexible working in clinical and non-clinical services across the health and care sector in Leeds.

Please note: this toolkit is based on the NHS ‘Supporting Your Team to Work Flexibly: A Line Manager’s Guide’ document which can be found here.


We asked Leeds health and care partners for feedback about what challenges they faced when trying to implement flexible working in services. Some of the key findings and workforce statistics which highlight ‘why’ flexible working matters more than ever are listed below. Whatever challenges you are facing when thinking about flexible working, you are not alone – there are key themes that all participants mentioned in feedback. The toolkit seeks to help you think about ways in which you can overcome these challenges for the benefit of your patients/service users, your service and the team that you work with. It is important to note that your organisation and peers will also have thoughts, and importantly, may have policies and procedures which can assist you in your journey to implementing flexible working.

Leeds health and care partner survey: key findings

  • Caring responsibilities, work/life balance, and health were the top three reasons cited for requesting flexible working.
  • 87% of survey responses noted one or all of the below as the biggest challenges to approving more flexible working requests:
    • Operational demands
    • Service capacity
    • Management skills and culture
    • Perceptions around needing to be fair and equitable amongst staff
  • 39% of survey respondents said yes to the following question in the survey ‘Are there people who leave your organisation, because they have not been able to access flexible working?’.

Workforce statistics

  • 75% – 82% of the NHS and adult social care workforce are represented by women (Adult Social Care Skills for Care Report, October 2022, The state of the adult social care sector and workforce in England (skillsforcare.org.uk). NHS guidance states that this group is most likely to request flexible working and be the primary care provider.
  • Over a quarter of workers within adult social care are 55 years old (Adult Social Care Skills for Care Report, October 2022) which if mirrored across the rest of the sector could mean an increase in requests for flexible working patterns due to retire and returning staff.
  • Cost of living – whilst flexible working is not the solution to cost of living, there is emerging research to suggest flexible working has an increasingly important role to play in our labour market: unlocking jobs and ensuring people have autonomy and control to support their financial decision-making (In this cost of living crisis, good flexible work could be a gamechanger – Timewise)

Key principles at the heart of
successful flexible job design

The key principle at the heart of getting flexible working right is finding a working pattern suitable for the organisation/service, the team and the individual.

Good flexible working arrangements should balance the needs of the individual with three key organisational factors:

  • Patient/service user and staff experience
  • Service delivery
  • Work-life balance of colleagues

In terms of exploring flexible working options, it is helpful to consider:

  • WHEN the work needs to be done.
  • WHERE the work needs to be done.
  • HOW work is planned and undertaken.
We can flex chart

Flexing the: WHEN

Flexible working is so much more than a perk for employees when correctly implemented, it can help solve a number of core business issues, including:

Talent Attraction

87% of people either work flexibly already or wish they could. 92% of millennials identify flexibility as a top priority.

Retention and Motivation

Higher levels of engagement, experienced by working flexibly, can reduce staff turnover by 87%.

Inclusion and Diversity

Flexible working is a key enabler for many carers, parents, older workers and those with health conditions.


97% of managers said the quantity of work improved or stayed the same. 93% of managers said the same about work quality.

Flexible Working and Performance Cranfield University/ Working Families, 2008 (workingfamilies.org.uk)

‘When-based’ flexibility refers to patterns in which the working day, week or year is adjusted. This includes patterns such as flexi-time, compressed hours and annualised hours.

It could include working reduced hours, such as working fewer days, shorter days, term-time only, job sharing and job splitting. Flexibility around when people work their hours is also a key enabler in terms of managing outside work interests and commitments.

Things to consider at this stage include clearly defining expectations and fixed commitments for each role, part time considerations, reducing workload and finding alternative resources.

Line managers can help individuals balance their work and personal needs by clearly defining your expectations and any fixed commitments for each role. 

Key points to consider:

  • What are the expectations of your patients/service users in terms of response time?
  • Are there core times when people need to attend key meetings or see patients?
  • Are there any important deadlines to be met?
  • Are there key meetings during the week that should be attended?
  • 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?

Job design is critical when considering any role, but particularly important to part-time working. Some roles will naturally be easier to reduce – for example by reducing the number of clinics or admin tasks – but for other roles it is important to identify how the role can be reduced, either by reducing the workload or identifying who else could do the work (finding alternative resource). It is important to ensure the same development and stretch opportunities are given to part-time workers, or those working at different times, to ensure they are not disadvantaged by not being around every day. It is also important to ensure these staff are not missing out on receiving key communication.

Flexing the: WHERE

Many teams expect to work in a more remote or hybrid way in the future. Managing a more remote team does require more planning to ensure things work smoothly.

In some areas of health and care, it became the new normal to consider working from home. Please see below for some questions to consider to ensure you have the right approach to remote working:

  • Who are your patients/service users/colleagues and what do they need/expect by way of presence?
  • What are the benefits to your patients/service users from remote or virtual working? (e.g. they don’t need to travel to the service or take time away from their work/caring responsibilities).
  • How will you move away from presenteeism as a traditional measure of performance and towards measuring performance in an outcomes-based way?
  • How often does the whole team need to be physically together, in the same room?Double-check that this is based on reality, not on one person’s perception/comfort levels.
  • Which activities are suited to remote working?
  • Which require presence in a physical location such as an office, ward or service?
  • Are there any health and safety considerations?
  • What equipment will staff working remotely need?
  • How will the team communicate and share knowledge?
  • What practices have you adopted/could you adopt which support team cohesion, health and wellbeing? How can you ensure regular feedback and improvement focus about performance, health and wellbeing, and ways of working?

Here are our top tips:

  1. Spend time with your team defining what ‘good’ looks like to ensure that you all agree it together and have a shared clarity (remember to use an outcomes-based approach).
  2. Plan and stick to a schedule of essential team meeting times and support everyone to attend, using technology and video conferencing solutions if these work for the team. Establish where people can flex their arrangements to attend if deemed essential.
  3. Use a range of communication tools and techniques to keep in touch, so that individuals have a sense of belonging, and can still get involved and understand the context of their work.
  4. Build in time for small talk, as it is important for relationship building and team cohesion.
  5. Pass on plenty of praise for a job well done, as remote workers often miss out on this type of contact.
  6. Make sure you deal with any concerns you may have in a timely and open manner, ensuring this does not compromise or affect others in the team who also work flexibly.
We Can Flex Tips

Flexing the: HOW

Other ways to support flexible working

While many health and care organisation roles can be done remotely or with flexible hours, working directly with service users and patients may require people to be present in specific locations at specific times. We want to encourage all managers to be open-minded when it comes to considering creative ways to allow flexibility. There may still be options for working different hours and working remotely for certain activities.

Organisations across the Leeds health and care sector are offering flexible working solutions that have been proven to benefit the service, patient/service user and the colleagues themselves. The below real-life examples from Leeds-based health and care teams and organisations demonstrate the positive impact that flexible working can create, as well as discussing the common myths and challenges surrounding flexible working, and the lessons learnt from managers who implemented flexible working patterns for their employees.

If you’d like to share how your service has implemented flexible working in Leeds, please contact us via leedsoneworkforce@nhs.net.

Leading a flexible team

Here are seven ways that you can demonstrate successful leadership when it comes to promoting and embedding flexible working:



Lead by example. Be a role model, be open about your own flexibility and how you’re managing your wellbeing. Book out space in your own diary for family time, out-of-work activities or breaks.


Trust people to do their jobs on a flexible basis. Don’t wait for them to ‘earn’ it.



Be accessible. Let your team know they should contact you if they need support. Create spaces in your diary where they can catch up with you outside of a formal meeting.


Consciously reward and recognise people for the outcomes they are achieving – not for working additional hours or being always present. This can unconsciously reinforce certain behaviours eg ‘presenteeism’.


Consider flexible working options when you are advertising vacancies. Be clear about the types of flexibility that would work well in the role, and make it clear that conversations around flexibility are welcomed at interview stage to encourage a greater diversity of talent.


Talk to other teams about what you’re doing. Share your good practice and learn from theirs.


Drive the conversation on flexible working. Bring it up with people in health and wellbeing conversations, in one-to-ones, at end of year, and during recruitment conversations. Even if the individual doesn’t want to work flexibly right now, mentioning it proactively will say a lot about how your team works.

Key Resources

If you have any queries or would like any more information, please do not hesitate to contact us at leedsoneworkforce@nhs.net