Eleanor recently joined the NHS as a senior manager at an acute trust in England. She’s full-time but has flexible hours and works from several locations, including home.
“As a team we work really flexibly. My hours are 37.5 a week, but I have complete autonomy over my working day. So, if I’m doing the school run, I just pop that in my calendar and work either side of it,” she explains.
“We’re given a really high level of trust,” she continues. “No one checks what time we swipe in or swipe out. I feel like I’m in an adult working environment, whereas at one place I worked previously we were literally monitored on our toilet breaks and things like that.”
Flexibility is paramount to Eleanor. In the past, she’s moved location and taken a pay cut to get the working pattern she wanted. “Every time I’ve looked at flexible working, I’ve made the decision based on what I needed, not what the job required me to do,” she says.
But working flexible hours from home can have its pitfalls, especially for women who take on most caring responsibilities, she warns. “During the pandemic, with the kids at home, I started very early but ended up working twelve-hour days because people would still book meetings right up to five or six in the evening.
“You end up trying to do everything that a mum does and your work at the same time,” she continues. “And then you feel guilty that you’re not doing a good job of either. I’ve now become very strict about my work-life balance, so I make sure I finish on time and I don’t work at the weekends.”
Staff working flexibly often feel they have to “prove their worth”, she says, accepting a calendar full of meetings “to show they’re doing as much as everyone else. But often you’re not really doing your job when you’re in a meeting, you’re just having a conversation.”
She would like senior leaders in her trust “to show how they’re going to deliver on what they say about flexible working”, she says. “I do wonder how many of them work completely flexibly and if you get less flexibility as you get more senior. Because I don’t think I’d want to give this up.”
Managers need to understand that “the job isn’t the the only thing that matters to people”, she adds. “If someone hasn’t got the childcare to do a night shift, they won’t be able to do that job. And we risk losing them to someone who can make it work for them.”
(Name and picture of interviewee have been changed.)