Staff should be able to request to work flexibly ‘from day one of employment’, and should not be barred by role or seniority, NHS England has suggested.

New guidance, published 3 February, said that flexible working opportunities should be offered ‘at all stages in a career’, regardless of grade or the reason behind the request.

NHSE did note, however, that not all roles are suitable for an agile working agreement ‘at all the times’, and so should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

All requests for flexible working should be considered on individual merit, it said, with managers encouraged to explore those opportunities while also maintaining safe and well-staffed services.

Managers should look to agree to a flexible working request ‘whenever they can’, it said.

‘Organisations, networks, teams and managers are encouraged to collaborate to think creatively about flexible working solutions, and trial different flexible working options to identify what works best.’

The guidance was published to support the implementation of the NHS People Plan and is intended to help embed flexible working into standard practice.

NHSE noted however that the guidance is non-statutory and does not introduce any new legal obligations for services.

It also added that local terms and conditions may impact how NHS-funded services such as GP practices and community pharmacies can apply the guidance.

Flexible working should balance staff and patient needs

Flexible working arrangements should balance the needs of a given staff member with patient experience, service delivery and colleagues’ work-life balance, NHSE said.

It encouraged managers to record these conversations with staff, as some changes to working patterns may alter a staff member’s contract.

An HR representative should be consulted before any ‘formal’ contractual changes, such as job sharing or sabbaticals, it said, in contrast to ‘informal’ opportunities, such as shift swapping and staggered hours.

Similarly, staff and managers should be clear on whether an arrangement is short-term – less than 28 days – or long-term.

It said: ‘You may also wish to work in partnership as a local system to develop a strategic approach to embedding these principles across your organisation.’

This story was first published in our sister title Management in Practice.