Time to work

Mary Currie, HR planning manager, Kings College Hospital NHS Trust

We try to ensure all our rotas meet the directive, but a substantial number of consultants work more than 48 hours a week and have voluntarily signed out of the clause.

Many nursing staff also want to do additional hours, and will opt out if this takes them over the 48-hour limit.

If we lose the opt-out, my guess is the nurses will continue working those additional hours, but will do it in other hospitals on a moonlighting basis. So we may lose their expertise and knowledge of the site – particularly if they’re doing the added hours for extra money.

And while we can lay down some local rules about not working back-to-back shifts to guard their health and safety, it’s obviously much harder to do this if they’re working in a different hospital. Consultants are a slightly different case because they’re not paid for their extra time and simply want to work the extra hours to get the job done. But if they lose their opt-out, we’ll have to look to recruit additional people. This also applies to our security staff.

So losing the opt-out could have a big effect on us. We already encourage people to work flexibly to suit their domestic situations, such as term-time working and annualised hours, as these enable people to work extra hours but still have an average that’s not over the limit.
This gives people flexibility and I think it’s very important for NHS trusts to think as creatively as possible to meet the needs of the service and the individual.

Gill Hibberd, Assistant director of HR, Hertfordshire County Council

There are times when our staff need to work extra hours, but we try to limit it as much as possible as we have a strong commitment to work-life balance.

For us, this starts at the senior level as they set an example to the rest of the business. It really is a vicious circle: if people feel they’re committing career suicide by not working the same hours as their boss, something is badly wrong.

It’s because of this that we’ve developed a flexible working directive that allows people to work different hours to suit the needs of their family and the business. And it is not just staff who like it, as our managers also appreciate the changes.

I would like to resist the removal of the opt-out because it removes this level of personal choice. But I can see where the government is coming from as the current system is open to abuse.

I don’t think it would work for us, as we need flexibility. The only people who have opted out are the emergency duty social work team, as they have to cope with intensive periods of work and then take the time off later. They pushed to retain that working pattern because it is one they liked.

From the employee’s point of view it removes a lot of flexibility. And I think the government has possibly gone too far now.

Sara Edwards, vice-president of HR, Maybourne Hotel Group

A number of employees choose to opt out for a variety of reasons. But it isn’t something we encourage, as we generally want people to only work the hours that they are contracted to.

At the same time, we have also moved away from the split shifts that are used by most companies in our field. We have actually had to increase our head count to accommodate this, but it has reaped huge benefits in terms of staff happiness and recruitment.

But for some people, the opt-out is important because they like to do a little extra work in other departments for some added cash. Others simply like the job of checking someone in and being there for the morning shift when they leave, as they enjoy the continuity of the guest service.

There is also a case for people wanting to maximise their gratuity potential, as the longer they’re around, the more tips they get. But whatever people do, we always ensure they have at least one day off a week. We don’t let them work seven days a week, even if they want to.

So losing the opt-out would have significant effects on our business – not least that a number of the staff wouldn’t want it. It would be a case of people wanting to work and us saying no you can’t, and that would be quite frustrating for everyone.

But at the same time I still recognise the spirit of the Working Time Regulations and what they are trying to achieve.

Sophie Corlett, Director of policy, MIND

Our lawyers are working on a test case that will go before the House of Lords. So they’re working more hours than usual and will probably do even more when they get into the hearings.

But when they finish we’ll make sure they take as much time off as they’ve earned. It’s a bit like taking time off in lieu for normal overtime, but in something like this you can’t use your normal flexi-time scheme as it accrues much more time. You effectively have to renegotiate a different scheme.

The way we understand it, we’ll still be able to do this if the UK loses its opt-out, as the directive allows people to work extra hours on the odd week if they’re working on a large project.

But we might be wrong, in which case we will look at how we’re doing things and change them. We know long hours are one of the greatest pressures people face. So if the law requires us to do things that are better for people, then great.

At the moment, people tend to say that losing the opt-out would be jolly inconvenient. But it isn’t compared to the benefits it will give to thousands of people.

To live a healthy life you need to provide a balance and the only way you can do that is to give yourself enough time for your family and other outside interests.

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