What is flexible working?

Flexible working practices can have profound benefits for both employee and employer, and the Department actively encourages a good work-life balance whether you have caring or family responsibilities or not. As part of this inclusive approach, the Department & University have part-time working, flexible working and working from home policies.  This is in addition to University policies covering carers and family leave; maternity, paternity, adoption and parental leave.

Flexible working can include a wide variety of working practices. Flexibility can be in terms of working time, working location or the pattern of working. Examples could include part-time working, staggered hours, working from home, job-sharing or term-time only working.

How do I apply for flexible working?

If you have 26 weeks continuous service with the University you have the right to request flexible working. If you would like to apply for formal flexible working we would encourage you to discuss this with your manager in the first instance. If it is possible to grant your request, this will result in a change to your contractual terms and conditions. Your local HR team are always available to answer any questions you may have about flexible working and can support you through the process.

You can make a request at any stage during the year but there is also an opportunity to discuss this at your Personal Development Review.

More information can be found on the Part-time workers pages of the University website. Additional guidance on the flexible working application process, as well the downloadable Flexible Working Application Form can be found be found there.

Case Studies

NDM is actively encouraging the use of flexible working, where possible, as a way for staff to maintain a healthy work-life balance and provide a means for those needing to adapt their working pattern to successfully meet the demands of both the workplace and home life. Some of our staff have shared their experiences of flexible working, exploring some of the benefits and challenges they have faced and the reasons for their flexible working pattern; including spending more quality time with the family, covering child care needs, and to help in the recovery from illness. Please see the case studies below:

Goods-In Technician, ORCRB, NDM

I have been the Goods-In Technician in the ORCRB since the building opened in 2008. As part of the Buildings Facilities team, I receive goods that come into the building, use Oracle R12 to receipt the goods on the system and ensure safe and secure storage and dispatch of those goods, interacting with drivers and all staff in the building.

When my wife Sue, who also works in NDM, had our first child in 2012, we concluded that the ideal outcome for us would be for me to work part-time (Monday-Wednesday) while our son went to nursery, and then I could be at home on Thursdays and Fridays. I submitted a flexible working request to my manager, which was approved. The ORCRB team then recruited an appropriate job-share, who worked Thursdays and Fridays. When Sue was off for a second period of maternity leave in 2014/15 I returned to full time work temporarily, then I reverted back to part-time hours when she returned to work.

The flexible working arrangement has been beneficial for us all. Sue has been able to continue developing her career while I have benefitted from enjoying the time with our children. As the children are now at school, Sue also has flexible working arrangements during term time by being able to finish early on Wednesdays to be able to do a school pick up, making up the hours on Thursdays (when I am home to deal with school runs). This way we only need to cover school wrap-around care for half of the week. Consequently we are both motivated and committed to working for NDM.

Written October 2018

Group Head/PI, Experimental Medicine, NDM

I am a consultant in infectious diseases and microbiology, and am currently funded by a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Fellowship to lead a small group based at the Medawar Building working on Hepatitis B virus (HBV), with close links with collaborators in South Africa and Uganda. I have leadership roles as Director of Graduate Studies for the Medawar Building, a module leader for infection and immunity teaching, and as a clinical tutor for Harris Manchester college. I became Chair of the Athena SWAN NDM self-assessment team early in 2018, and have recently been made an Associate Professor.

I have two children, and have worked less than full time for nearly ten years, since the birth of my first baby two weeks after my D.Phil viva in 2009. Pursuing a clinical academic training pathway has meant transitions backwards and forwards between contracts with the University and the NHS. Initially working three days a week seemed like the natural balance to cope with a small child, and fitted into clinical rotas on a ‘job share’ basis. After having a second baby, I took what felt a difficult decision to step up from a three-day to four-day working week to keep my research interests alive, while working to complete a marathon 11 years in speciality clinical training.

The road has not always been an easy one. I am not very disciplined with my time, so although my official role is less than full time, I often work more than full time. What gets referred to as my ‘day off’ is often the most frenetic day of the week. Every so often, I end up unavoidably in the southern hemisphere, and have to call in childcare favours. With all the plates that are spinning, some get dropped; I have learnt to be more forgiving of myself when things don’t go to plan, and have lots of practice in sacrificing perfectionism in favour of realism. The logistics of dealing with two different employers have been complicated, and I am a strong advocate for streamlining approaches to clinical academic training.

As a result of international travel, I have seen at first hand many situations where there is no perinatal healthcare, no maternity or paternity benefits, no opportunities for flexible working, and no options for childcare. This makes me reflect on the enormous privilege of having been able to have children and pursue a career in parallel, in a culture where this is accepted practice. Having the support of the NHS, the university and academic funders to work less than full time has provided me with what feels like a vital safety-valve of flexibility in ring-fencing time for my family while managing a complicated schedule. I have derived huge courage and solidarity from a network of colleagues juggling similar challenges, my work is inspiring and rewarding, and my daughters are currently still joyful about their weekly ‘Mummy Day’ (I recognise this will change over time!). Finally, I owe a debt of gratitude to my own parents for moral support and emergency childcare, and to my husband and children for their good health, good humour, tolerance and resilience.

Written December 2018

My current job title is Project Manager with Professor Crook in the Modernising Medical Microbiology group. The role mainly consists of supporting the group with their work on improvements in infectious disease diagnostic methods and detection of antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics, and leading on public engagement and involvement. Previously, I worked in medical microbiology diagnostics and as a lecturer in Microbiology and Infection Prevention Control.

I have four children and have always worked around school hours. However, my recent work pattern has changed due to illness that meant I was away from work for several months. On coming back, my manager agreed that I could work from home one day a week and to a reduction on hours from 37 to 30. He has also been flexible about medical appointments that are ongoing.

The HR department have been helpful in redrafting my contract. This process has meant coming back to work has not been stressful and that the side effects of treatment, such as fatigue, are manageable. The department has been very supportive during a difficult time.

Written in March 2019

I started working for the University in October 2008 in the Clinical Bio-Manufacturing Facility within NDM. This is the University of Oxford’s GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) manufacturing facility that is producing biological Investigational Medicinal Products (IMPs) according to the principles of GMP for early phase clinical trials. My role is to cover all aspects of Production as Senior Production Assistant. This includes Cell banking, Viral vector manufacture and Aseptic Filling all of which are performed to GMP standards.

I requested a flexible working pattern after trying to manage full time work and becoming a mother. I attended Springboard Women’s Development Programme at the Oxford Learning Institute which helped me to focus on my wellbeing and realise that trying to do my professional role full time and be a mother wasn’t working as well as I would have hoped. I found myself being continuously on the rush and although still performing alright I understood that I could do better if I re-arranged things slightly.

I spoke to my Manager and explained that I would like to reduce my working hours. A meeting with the Personnel Manager was arranged and various options were explored. It was agreed that the new working pattern would be tried over a period of six months. I moved to a working pattern of 30.5 hours Monday to Friday with two short days. This pattern worked really well, and was continued for 4 years. Things improved significantly on reducing my working hours. I found that I was more focused in my job. The reduced working hours pattern gave me the drive to better organise my workload and keep track of what needed doing and when.  I have become better at prioritising things and delegating where possible and necessary. It also reduced the pressure of rush hour heavy traffic on my journey back home which increased the time I had available to spend with my family.

More recently, I have adopted compressed hours, which means I work longer hours on four days with one day off every week. I received great support from my Manger to do so.

Written January 2019

Group Head/PI, WHG, NDM

I joined the Tomlinson lab, then in London, to start a postdoc in 2007. Shortly afterwards the lab move to the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford. Starting a family took me longer than I’d hoped but I finally fell pregnant in 2010 and had my daughter Bethan in April 2011. The Oxford University maternity pay was generous so I took 8 months of leave in total. Before returning, I discussed flexible and part time working with my PI and the HR department, and was able to agree a 4 day week with defined hours of 8.30 to 4.30.

This set up worked very well for me and, I think, my PI. I continued working these hours for two years during which time I achieved data for and published a high impact first author paper as well as contributing to other projects and publications in the lab. I then took a second period of 8 months leave after the arrival of my son, Owen. It is now 1 year since my return and the 4 day week is still working well, despite the obvious juggling act that any working mother needs to negotiate. My slightly shortened hours mean that I can drop off and collect my son from nursery close to my home in Beaconsfield. My daughter is now at school and I have organised a combination of wrap-around care in school clubs and with another parent, who also works flexibly. My husband, who works in London, can’t help that often, but he does cover 1 drop off per week and occasional pick-ups so I can stay late for important meetings or networking events.

I am fortunate that my PI is very supportive and both he and my colleagues respect my hours and never expect me to attend meetings or seminars too early/late or on my day off. I have found that, as long as I plan my work well and work efficiently, that I am nearly as productive as I was working 5 days with less restricted hours. During the time I have in the lab, I prioritise working at the bench, interacting with colleagues and supervising students. Any writing up, analysis or other computer based work that I cannot finish during the day, I complete in the evenings after my children are asleep, although I try to keep this under control.

I really enjoy the day that I spend at home each week. I am able to drop off and pick up my daughter from school meaning that I can get to know her teachers and other parents, which I have discovered is very important for both my daughter and me during this big step in her life. In the evening I take her and a friend to ballet class. I also get some precious 1 to 1 time with my son and try to make sure that I spend it doing enjoyable activities not housework. In recent weeks we have been to a toddler music group, a petting zoo, the local park and Legoland! I am grateful that I can experience some of the pleasurable family time that stay-at-home mothers enjoy, while actively pursuing my career in science.

While having children has undoubtedly slowed my career progression, I have recently been awarded a New Investigators Research Grant application to the MRC for independent funding to start my own group. This will obviously pose new challenges and I expect to be very busy. Some great women scientists in Oxford have shown that it can be done though.

Written June 2016

Translational Medicine Lead, Experimental Medicine, NDM

I am the Translational Medicine Lead within the Experimental Medicine division of NDM and a Research Fellow in Wolfson College. I am a member of the senior management group at the Translational Gastroenterology Unit. My responsibilities include the establishment of translational aspects of the unit (from bench to bed), facilitating the operation between the hospital staff and research laboratories and developing translational study protocols by implementing systematic procedures for translational studies. I also collaborate in several scientific projects in the unit and co-supervise students and postdocs in translational projects. My first degree was in Microbiology and my MSc and PhD in Immunology. My main interest is to translate basic research in mucosal immunology into treatments for inflammatory bowel disease.

As a bench scientist my hours have never been 9-5 since experiments would dictate the working times. However, when I became a mother I found I had to adapt my pattern where I could to fit the needs of my family and parental responsibilities such as school runs, school functions, doctor’s appointments etc. I remained full time, but now work those hours at flexible times to allow me to meet both the demands of work and home.

At first I needed to be very strict with myself. As my work became more managerial, with grant writing deadlines and trying to fit meetings, the hours changed again. I don’t always spend the whole time in my office but my phone has become an extension of my arm. This is an advantage but also requires discipline so that I don’t make myself available 24/7.

My line managers have always been very supportive as they have similar working patterns as myself. As the department has developed with Athena SWAN no one looks at you strangely if you say that you can’t attend a meeting at 8:00 a.m or at 6:00 p.m. This has had a huge impact on my quality of life. Most people in the department are aware of my flex time. They also know that I am very reliable and will get things done whether in my office or not.

My advice would be to be disciplined with yourself. Just because the technology is there it doesn’t mean that you need to answer emails at 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday night or send emails to your team at that time. I am still working on that one!

Written July 2016

I am a Research Assistant in the Cornall Lab and I am primarily responsible for managing the day to day running of the lab.

I was born in Australia and did my undergraduate B.Sci Hons degree at the University of Melbourne.  After finishing my degree, I worked for a couple of years as a research assistant for Prof Tony Purcell before applying for jobs in the UK.  I was fortunate enough to get a job with Prof Richard Cornall almost straight away and after waiting for all the necessary Visas I was able to move to the UK.

For most of my working career I have worked full time.  My first daughter was born in 2013 and when my maternity leave finished I initially came back to work full time but I found that my commute, combined with an off-site nursery drop off was not really working for either myself or my daughter.  After a discussion with Richard we agreed that I would trial working a slightly shorter day, working 6.5 hours a day, rather than 7.5 hours.  This would hopefully shorten my commute by allowing me to leave a little bit earlier and get ahead of the traffic.  This worked well and I maintained this pattern until the birth of my second daughter in 2015.  On returning to work from my second maternity leave I had decided that doing my commute 5 days a week was not going to be compatible with a happy work/life balance, I then discussed the possibility of only coming back to work 3 days a week.  Thankfully, Richard was willing to trial this and ever since I have been working 3 days a week, either Monday to Wednesday or Wednesday to Friday.

The first thing that made it work so well was Richard’s willingness to listen to my concerns and give flexible working a try.  My colleagues have also been really supportive, as there are some weeks when working 3 days is just not enough time to get everything done that I would like, so occasionally they have to step in and do some jobs that I would normally take care of. We were also able to move our lab meetings and other scheduled meetings to fit in with my work days.

I think the main benefits for me have been that I get to spend more time with my daughters, and they get to maintain the friendships that they made while attending our local Pre-School while I was on maternity leave the second time.  I also think that I enjoy and appreciate work more now that I only work 3 days a week.

One of the difficulties I encountered was the fact that at the time the University nurseries didn’t offer places for 4 days a week.  I’m not sure I would have necessarily chosen to work 3 days a week if 4 days of University nursery childcare was an option.  Another of the difficulties has been that I have had to prioritise the parts of my job that keep the lab running smoothly.  This however means that some weeks I spend a lot of my time doing the ‘boring’ parts of my job with little chance to do some of the techniques that I really enjoy.

It’s really important to find a balance that not only works but also makes you feel happy. I also think it helps if you approach it with open mind and are willing to incorporate a degree of flexibility into your home life as well.  Important meetings or seminars won’t always be on the days that you work, so while I don’t think you should make your life difficult by trying to attend everything, it helps if your home life is slightly flexible too so that occasionally you might be able to attend events that might improve your career, or even to just get some extra enjoyment out of work. 

Written November 2018