Flexible hours: priority or luxury?

SHPA’s International Women’s Day debate focused on flexible hours in the workplace to help achieve gender equity

International Women’s Day is a worldwide event to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Press for Progress’: to press forward and progress gender parity, and to be gender inclusive.

To add to the conversation on how can gender equity be achieved in the workplace, the Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA) held a debate on the topic: Priority or luxury? Flexible hours in clinical pharmacy practice.

The debate was streamed online at 1pm AEDT on Thursday 8 March.

Two sides were picked to argue each side of the debate – although some on the negative side almost facetiously covered their argument.

First speaker on the negative side, Andrew Harding, Senior Pharmacist Emergency Medicine at Austin Health Melbourne, said patient needs should come before staff needs.

“We know there’s more women in pharmacy, and the majority of males are the ones in management.

However “hospitals managers want the staff there, physically at work, doing regular hours,” he argued.

“Achieving SHPA goals and patient care needs a stable, full-time work force, not a flexible workforce.”

The pro-flexibility debate team: Olivia Rofe, Duncan McKenzie and Wendy Huynh.
The pro-flexibility debate team: Olivia Rofe, Duncan McKenzie and Wendy Huynh.

On the positive side for flexible hours, Sydney clinical pharmacist Wendy Huynh, argued that “in order to advance the pharmacy workforce, we need to support and develop the pharmacists within this movement – whether that be expanding their skills and promoting their continuous development … or empowering pharmacists to attain better work-life balance, productivity and efficiency.

“None of these [SHPA] goals are achievable without flexibility – so let’s ‘press for progress’ because flexibility will enhance patient care,” she said.

The Australian Human Rights Commission acknowledges that recognising flexible work arrangements leads to enhanced work-life balance, successful recruitment, and retention of skilled staff, Ms Huynh added.

“If you do not offer flexible arrangements, you may not be retaining your skilled staff.”

Duncan McKenzie, Pharmacy Site Manager at the Royal Hobart Hospital Tasmania, said: “I’d challenge you to find anyone who honestly thinks that work-life balance is not an inherently  good thing.

“It allows us to be the best versions of ourselves, to be truly present when we’re at work and in our lives outside of work,” he argued for the positive team.

“Flexibility is different for everyone and, let’s face it, work-to-life balance is never going to be a 1:1 ratio.

“I manage a moderately large hospital pharmacy in Hobart with 100 staff, of whom 50% are on some form of flexible arrangement, to support children, to run small businesses, to study, to undertake humanitarian work, to care for ageing loved ones or to transition into retirement.

“We view flexibility as an absolute necessity because for us and most other regional centres in Australia, as the only tertiary hospital within kilometres, we can’t just reach out down the road to the nearest tertiary hospital for new recruits.

“We home grow the majority of our staff,  we nurture them and reasonably accommodate their lives – because it’s the right thing to do, and because it works.”

The full list of speakers was as follows:

  • Ms Sharon Goldsworthy, BPharm MClinPharm, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA
  • Rochelle Green, BPharm G.DipClinPharm, Senior Pharmacist Surgical and Centre for Clinical Trials in Rare Neurodevelopmental Disorders , Lady Cilento Hospital, QLD
  • Andrew Harding, B Pharm MPH, Senior Pharmacist, Emergency, Austin Hospital, VIC
  • Wendy Huynh, BPharm, Pharmacist Investigational Drug Unit, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW
  • Duncan McKenzie, BPharm, Pharmacy Site Manager, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS
  • Olivia Rofe, BPharm, MPharm, Associate Director of Pharmacy Clinical Services, Eastern Health, VIC

The debate can now be viewed on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H_3jDSvyuU

What are your thoughts on flexible working arrangements?

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  1. pagophilus

    Will the flexible working hours be extended to men (in the interests of gender equality/parity or whatever else you want to call it)?

    Also, we must not confuse equality of access with equality of outcome. Equality of outcome is never guaranteed for anyone. We already have equality of access for women, indigenous people etc. What people are proposing is making some people MORE equal than others to ensure equality of outcome.

    How do people propose that the superannuation gender gap is addressed, for example? Women end up with less super because they have children and are out of the workforce for some time? You cannot expect that they be paid a higher rate of super just because they’re female. And how would you equalise it? Some women stay out of the workforce longer than others.

  2. Anne Todd

    Great comments from Duncan – flexible workplaces are the key to the future. Younger people (eck – I feel so old these days) like the idea of working in multiple environments having days off for their kids.
    Having worked 3 on 2 off, half days, nights etc I have always enjoyed being able to match my hours to my needs it is one of the stand out reasons for pharmacy being so much fun still after 30 years.

    Disclaimer – I helped supervised Duncan as an Intern pharmacist, when I worked for the Tasmanian Pharmacy Board’s Intern Program.

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