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Improving Working Lives

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The Improving Working Lives (IWL) initiative was launched in 2000 by the Department of Health as a way of enhancing the working lives of all NHS staff by making the NHS more flexible, supportive and family-friendly.

The IWL Standard is a kind of model of good human resource practice and a blueprint against which NHS staff and employers can measure how human resources are managed.

It calls on employers to demonstrate many things such as proving that they are committed to giving all staff members greater flexibility, they value equality and diversity, and that good training and development are easily accessed. If they prove this, they are kite-marked for being a good employer.

The IWL Standard’s main ‘must-do’ points for employers are:
- Demonstrate year-on-year improvements in the quality of working lives of staff such as meeting targets for reducing violence against staff, accidents to staff, levels of absence, occupational health services and counselling services
- Prove progress on tackling the long-hours culture of the NHS
- Evidence of vacancy and turnover rates improving
- Ensure accessible, affordable and good quality childcare support is available
- Coordinated provision of nursery places and provision of school-aged children, after school clubs, local childminding networks and holiday play schemes
- Conduct and publish an annual staff attitude survey
- Staff surveys showing satisfaction with security, facilities, accommodation and catering
- Show that staff are able to review and agree changes in their working patterns with evidence, for example, of staff who have changed working patterns after life events such as maternity, paternity, adoption, bereavement or illness in the family
- Examples of staff feeling supported and able to challenge harassment, bullying and discriminatory behaviour based on differences in language, culture, religion, sexuality, age, gender or employment status
- Processes in place to determine staff preferences for work patterns through surveys, workshops, focus groups
- Show that all staff have equal access to training and personal development.

All NHS employers now have IWL Standard accreditation, and almost all have achieved IWL Practice Plus, which means they have implemented their good human resources policies and practices, and can show that these are working well for all staff groups.

The intentions of the IWL initiative are good, but the NHS is still some way off from allowing nurses to have full control over the way they work. Many nurses still struggle to get the kind of shifts they want, whether that be working permanent nights, permanent days, a mix of the two, or working on internal rotation.

Updated: September 2006

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