Nurses and teachers choose agency work for better work-life balance, report finds

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Teachers and nurses are choosing to work through agencies because they are disillusioned with permanent work, research has found.

A report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), has revealed that employees in these sectors feel there is better work-life balance and less stress in temporary work.

Use of agency workers in the public sector, which was commissioned by the Government’s Office for Manpower Economics, found that agency staff in teaching and nursing were likely to be highly experienced, but preferred to pick and choose where they worked.

Many cited bureaucracy and office politics as reasons for shunning permanent public-sector employment, and both agency nurses and supply teachers said that the flexibility of temporary work trumped pay when it came to the type of roles they found attractive.

The research also involved NHS trust managers, who reported that agency staff’s skills tended to be on a par with permanent employees, with concerns around continuity rather than skill level.

Headteachers, meanwhile, said that recruiting supply teachers often meant they could gain access to candidates they would not normally have.

However, the NIESR and REC found that school leaders had less understanding of how agencies’ fee structures work, how they vet candidates or why they should pay finders’ fees.

Both headteachers and NHS trust managers believe it’s unlikely spending on agency staff will reduce significantly in the near future.

Agency workers accounted for 0.8% of total NHS employment in 2015, while approximately 1.3% of jobs in public-sector schools are filled by agency workers.

REC chief executive Kevin Green said it was important for more public-sector employers to recognise more flexible ways of working.

He said: “When we speak to agency nurses and supply teachers they say they’ve made a positive choice to work this way because they want the freedom and flexibility to work where and when they choose.

“Being a nurse or a teacher is a hugely demanding job which comes with all sorts of pressures so it’s no surprise that some experienced professionals want to achieve a better work-life balance.

“For too long, employers in the public sector have ignored this desire for flexibility when they should instead use it to develop ways to retain their talent and attract more people into these jobs to alleviate skills shortages.”

NIESR researcher Nathan Hudson-Sharp added: “Current rules around agency spending in the NHS seem to only address the symptoms of the problem. What they fail to do is tackle the underlying issue of demand continuing to outstrip supply.

“The future of agency working in the NHS would therefore seem to rest on implementing an approach that is much more comprehensive, and that would enable NHS employers to address underlying issues around staff shortages, training, workforce planning, recruitment and retention.”

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