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NCVO and ACEVO call for all charity roles to be advertised as flexible

The voluntary sector needs to lead the way on flexible working and advertise all roles as flexible, with employers encouraging open conversations about how it can work in their organisation.

  • New report urges voluntary sector to build on pandemic progress by considering flexibility in the job design of all charity roles.
  • Report makes six recommendations to help charities make flexible working the default position for employment in the sector.
  • Umbrella bodies encourage organisations to share stories of how flexibility is working so that best practice, learning and inspiration is easily available in the sector – building confidence and reducing stigma.

The voluntary sector needs to lead the way on flexible working and advertise all roles as flexible, with employers encouraging open conversations about how it can work in their organisation. That’s according to a new report, 'Time to Flex', being launched by voluntary sector membership bodies NCVO and ACEVO, with support executive search firm Starfish Search.

The need to address flexible working has become all the more crucial due to the rise in home working during the pandemic and the recent lifting of the government’s ‘work from home’ guidance. The report  ‘Time to Flex’  is based on research and interviews by the Flexible Working Group which was set up in September 2021 and chaired by former Changing Faces CEO Becky Hewitt. Based on conversations with leaders and employees across the voluntary sector, the report calls for flexible working to be central to the future of work within charities. It highlights that it is vital to attracting and retaining the most talented people and essential for building inclusion, diversity, equity and wellbeing. However, the report also calls for an urgent mindset shift across the sector, emphasising that all too often it’s left to employees to ‘make flex work’. Many employees feel pressure to overcompensate for their working patterns without proper organisational or structural support. 

Ama Afrifa-Tchie, Head of People, Wellbeing & Equity, Mental Health First Aid England and a member of the Flexible Working Group said:

'I went down to compressed hours in 2020 and at the time a lot of people said to me "oh you must work really long days". However, it’s about setting boundaries and working smarter. It’s also about empowering my team so that I don’t need to be in every single meeting. We need to change mindsets so the focus is more on outputs rather than presenteeism. So many people have had to work differently during the pandemic and I think a big part of making flexible working a success is providing people with the tools and guidance to support them. The decision-makers in organisations must also ask themselves how equitable they are being, and how inclusive are you in involving your workforce to co-design your workplace culture.'

The report includes practical tips, case studies and links to useful resources to support leaders, managers and individuals to approach flexible working in their organisations.

Becky Hewitt, Chair of the Flexible Working Group, said:

'When I started thinking about being a chief executive my single biggest anxiety was the conversation about flexible working. I was already a first-timer – how could I be taken seriously as a part-timer too?  Many charities are facing a moment where the need is greater than ever before – while resources and funds are increasingly stretched. Our passionate, committed and mission-driven workforce often ‘lean in’ themselves, working long hours in service of the cause and not wanting to "let anyone down". Yet Covid-19 has taught us that we can work differently – and more flexibly – when the will is there. From our conversations across the sector, it’s clear there is now a unique opportunity to build on what we have learnt during the pandemic and move on from outdated ways of working – redesigning work in the voluntary sector so that supporting people’s "whole selves" and productivity can go hand in hand.'

NCVO and ACEVO say this report is just the start of a conversation, and there are plans for a second phase, which might include more in-depth training and toolkits to support voluntary organisations to implement flexible working. 

Sarah Vibert, interim chief executive, NCVO, and Vicky Browning, chief executive, ACEVO, said:

'Increasingly, ACEVO and NCVO members tell us that they’re interested in implementing more flexible working arrangements in their organisations. The subject is now particularly important given the changes to the way we organise work brought about by the pandemic and the need for a more inclusive culture.  We want to create a culture in the voluntary sector that values and champions flexible working. Flexible working promotes wellbeing in the workplace, and it increases productivity. It’s critical for inclusion. It’s important for attracting and retaining a talented, diverse pool of staff.   Put simply, flexible working for our teams will help the voluntary sector deliver more for the people and communities we support. We’re looking forward to working with our members to make flexible working in voluntary organisations the norm.'

Katy Giddens, Director, Starfish Search, said: 'Since the pandemic, we have seen a marked shift in candidates’ desire to achieve more agile ways of working in leadership roles. Boards are responding to this and there is an increasing openness to flexibility and the value it can add in securing, retaining and broadening talent. But it is still evolving – the more visible role models we have, the more it will give others the confidence to follow suit.'

The report will be launched at an NCVO hosted online event on Thursday 10 February 2022.


Notes to Editor:

If you would like a copy of the report or an interview about the findings, please contact: Sean O’Brien, Communications Manager, NCVO – / 07852 721 478 The report will be available on the NCVO website from 09.00 on 10 February 2022 at the following link: Details on the Time to Flex online event (14.30-15.30) Thursday 10 February 2022 can be found here: Background The ACEVO and NCVO Flexible Working Group was announced in August 2021 to galvanise lasting positive change about flexible working in the charity sector post pandemic. The Working Group was chaired by Becky Hewitt former CEO of Changing Faces and sponsored by Starfish Search. Eleven working group members were recruited via an open selection process out of over 60 applicants to build the best strength, depth and diversity of knowledge, and experience around flexible working. Working group members are listed below. The working group met three times during October and November 2021, and their research included focus groups, wide-ranging expert interviews, many informal conversations and desk research. We are enormously grateful to everyone who shared their experiences, perspectives and knowledge.

The report makes the following six recommendations. 

  1. Backed by ACEVO and NCVO, the voluntary sector to champion a default position of ‘yes to flex’ – where employers proactively consider how flexibility is possible in the job design for all roles, for everyone.
  2. Flexibility to be advertised for all roles – so employers openly lead the conversation about how flexibility can work, and the focus isn’t on the candidate to request it.
  3. Organisations and individuals to openly share their stories of how flexibility is working – so that best practice, learning and inspiration are easily available in the sector, confidence is built, and stigma is reduced.
  4. Organisations to embrace a position of trust – where individuals are more empowered to manage their time based on outcomes and impact, rather than when and where they work.
  5. Organisations to have the courage to experiment, make mistakes, adjust, learn and improve, and be honest about what is and isn’t working while keeping a focus on individual needs.
  6. Flexibility to become a central pillar of equity, diversity and inclusion, and wellbeing strategies.

List of Flexible Working Group members:

Akiko Hart, chief executive, National Survivor User Network

Alice Klein, assistant director of communications, Shelter

Ama Afrifa-Tchie, head of people, wellbeing and equity, Mental Health First Aid England

Claire Reynolds, head of digital and data, Changing Faces

Darren Knight, chief executive, George House Trust

Helen Reed, co-founder, JobSharesWork

Jane van Zyl, chief executive, Working Families

Lauren Seager-Smith, chief executive, Kidscape

Katie Hillitt, co-founder, JobSharesWork

Michael Maddick, director of people and culture, The Children’s Trust

Pip Gardner, chief executive, The Kite Trust

About the organisations

NCVO is the largest membership organisation for the voluntary sector in England. With over 17,000 members, NCVO represents all types of organisations, from large ‘household name’ charities to small voluntary and community groups involved at the local level. We are also the lead body for volunteering in England. To find out more visit ACEVO’s vision is for civil leaders to make the biggest possible difference. Together with our network of over 1,600 members, we inspire and support civil society leaders through connection, skills and influence. Our members drive positive change in their organisations and in their communities, and our peer-to-peer network supports and encourages them at every step of their career. We offer our members networking and learning events; exclusive access to personal development opportunities and mentoring tailored to senior leadership roles; helplines for immediate expert advice; discounted professional services delivered by our partners, and advice and support when it is needed the most. Through our influencing work we help to shape the agenda on issues that matter to our members, and ensure their voices are heard by those who have the power to effect change. Membership is open to charity and social enterprise chief executives. Find out more at or by emailing Starfish Search is an executive search and interim talent business with a strong commitment to social purpose. The deep experience of our team reaches across a range of sectors including charities, housing, the broader not for profit sector, socially responsible business, local and central government and health and social care. We bring particular expertise in recruiting leaders to organisations which are looking to make a step change in their impact and in supporting the transition of talent between private, public and not for profit.

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