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Flexible staffing for a stronger business

Developing a workforce to be as flexible as possible has several benefits for childcare organizations not least in maintaining a strong financial position, but also providing wider options for employment in what is currently a difficult time to find and recruit new people.

Having a more flexible team can be a way to adjust rapidly to customer needs, manage staffing levels to match demand and attendance, offer more flexible employment terms or working hours and access a wider demographic of potential new employees.

Most childcare providers would probably feel they have a degree of flexibility already, but could that be improved and go some way to solving other issues related to recruitment of new staff? Whatever the motivation, it is worth reviewing how your business is staffed, what flexibility you have already and what areas you may be able to improve to ensure you are fully staffed with maximum financial and operational efficiency.

Be aware that as with every strategy and management decision making process, there are extremes and employee flexibility is no different, so look closely at your current staffing challenges, operational problems or place take up forecasts to see where a more flexible approach to staffing might just be able to help.

Here are a few ideas for a more flexible workforce…

It’s helpful if there is a balance of employment in any organization that includes, full time roles, part time roles and possibly people employed on other types of contract. This makes for a stable workforce on which to base operational activity and this balance should recognize the operational intricacies of the business and try to accommodate them through a flexible approach to certain job roles.

Employing more people on flexible contracts.

In a childcare situation there are a few circumstances that would benefit from flexible staffing where the actual job roles are flexible, either in terms of activities undertaken or working hours and patterns, or both.

In the case of flexible job roles people have the flexibility to move from one work activity to another as and when needed to meet daily demands on the setting and get things done when needed. One example of this would be if, for example, attendance changes on a particular day and staff need to move between age ranges to ensure ratios are maintained. This can only be done if the employee has a matrix of skills and experience to be that flexible, and their job description is set up to allow this flexibility.

Another example would be if an employee has a contract for a set amount of hours each year, but these hours vary weekly or monthly to meet demand. This gives flexibility to ensure that the setting is not unnecessarily overstaffed at times when attendance is low. One example could be a seasonal trend like at the start of the term in September when take up may not be at its fullest, so the flexible workers do less hours to avoid overstaffing. Over the year the employees have a stable income but the hours they work are flexible day to day.

Changing the way people are employed

Another way to gain a more flexible workforce is to employ people differently. Here are some options….

a) Job sharing - Two people do one job and split the hours.

b) Compressed hours - Working full-time hours but over fewer days.

c) Flexi time- The employee chooses when to start and end work (within agreed limits) but works certain ‘core hours’, e.g. 10am to 4pm every day.

d) Staggered Hours - The employee has different start, finish and break times from other workers.

e) Annualized Hours - The employee has to work a certain number of hours over the year but they have some flexibility about when they work. There are sometimes ‘core hours’ which the employee regularly works each week, and they work the rest of their hours flexibly or when there’s extra demand at work.

Not only does this flexible approach have employee benefits, but also the employer can save a lot of money because when this method is planned well, overtime, back fill for training, sickness and holidays should be a thing of the past.

f) Reserve staff - It may also be possible to build a small group of reserve staff who are quite happy to work as and when, and who don’t necessarily want full time work, but do want to have some work in a field they love. This may open the employee market to include recently retired or “semi retired” people who can fill the gaps when you need them to.

Pro’s and Con’s

Some of the advantages of developing a more flexible workforce begin with being able to keepstaffing costs to a minimum by coping with demand and attendance changes quickly and also broadening your range of job roles to appeal to a much wider employee audience enhancing chances of finding new people and keeping a full team. Essentially, with greater flexibility of team roles and contracts in the organization, the wider the market of potential employees becomes. Having a strong and stable workforce really does provide the opportunity to maximize incomes and sustainability chances in the long run.

However, whilst there is always a place for some more flexibility, it takes time to develop the right balance of roles, flexibility and understanding of just how the organization can maximize its appeal to the job market, whilst delivering an effective operational model of early ears and childcare. It involves changes to contracts, job descriptions and a willing staff team to take an initiative like this forward.

If you would like to know more about the legal position it’s always useful to contact agencies such as ACAS who currently have more detail on their website


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