Public sector comms is sitting on a gold mine of talent, if only it would offer more flexible roles

It's been some time since flexible working of some description has been available in Britain, but it's still not the norm.

Two experienced managers for the price of one? It's a no-brainer, argues Pauline O'Brien
Two experienced managers for the price of one? It's a no-brainer, argues Pauline O'Brien

If the comms industry wants to retain talent, flexible working must become more commonplace.

At London Ambulance Service we have four people who work part-time in a communications department of 15 people, which allows them to fulfil their other commitments outside of work.

Four out of 15 is a really good proportion, but providing those opportunities takes thought and effort because our society still has a pretty rigid five-day working week.

I inherited a job-share manager role within my media team when I joined the organisation a year ago, and it was the first time I’d managed a team where one of the roles was split between two people.

A year on, I can say that it works really well for our team, but takes a lot of effort on the part of the people sharing the role.

To ensure there is continuity for the team, they work really hard to provide comprehensive verbal and written handovers in their own time.

And I’ll admit there are still occasions when it is sometimes just easier for those of us who are in all week to deal with something urgent that would otherwise straddle the job-share changeover.

But the benefits of having two committed and experienced managers, literally for the price of one, is a no-brainer to me.

The benefits of having two committed and experienced managers, literally for the price of one, is a no-brainer.

Pauline O'Brien, head of external communications at London Ambulance Service

It’s a sad fact that many individuals who want to go from full- to part-time working find that they cannot do their current role on those terms.

This means that job-share roles are incredibly scarce and so competition for them is stiff.

Those who want to work part-time are currently a greatly untapped resource, and the industry is missing out on a wealth of experience as a result.

One of my job-share managers, who introduced the job share on return from maternity leave nearly three years ago, told me that the calibre of applicants for the other half of the week to her was phenomenal, with a number of great candidates they could have hired.

They appointed Caroline Watson. She still works with me to run the press office, which forms part of the external communications function at London Ambulance Service.

Caroline and I are once more recruiting for half of the job share, and the quality of the applicants is again phenomenal.

Fantastic though that is, I can’t help but think that the dearth of job-share opportunities raises the standard substantially.

If I’m right, then I’m happy for me and my team to benefit while the rest of the industry catches up – but it isn’t really fair on candidates.

And there are still other challenges, beyond my control, that discourage flexible working. Where these exist I use informal arrangements to try to redress the balance.

I have built my career in the public sector and have worked flexibly both within the NHS and in arms-length bodies, and I’m grateful for the flexible working opportunities I’ve been given. 

But to encourage and then keep quality communicators, we should keep striving to remove all the barriers to flexible working.

Pauline O'Brien is head of external communications at London Ambulance Service



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