Contract lengths and renewals
Although some research nurses, midwives and allied health professionals (NMAHPS)* we spoke to were employed on ‘open-ended’, ‘permanent’ or ‘substantive’ contracts, most had started in research delivery posts on ‘fixed-term’ posts or been on these at some point. The duration of fixed-term posts varied dramatically – from just six weeks to five years. Some (including Alice, Graham and James) had started in research on secondments which gave them opportunities to experience the role with the security of having posts to return to.
Fixed-term posts were a major cause of concern for many, especially for those with mortgages and families to support. Ginny felt that fixed-term contracts didn’t ‘inspire much continuity or loyalty’ and, for Dawn, ‘it almost put me off taking the post because it was a one year contract’. Alice felt temporary contracts negatively affected others’ perceptions of research midwives, as it suggested they weren’t valuable or part of clinical care*.
However, some research NMAHPs were not too bothered about fixed-term contracts – either because they felt it would be renewed or they could find another job (research or clinical non-research). James recalled feeling ‘reassured that I’d still be skilled enough to get a job back on a ward or somewhere within nursing’. Sandra, Paul and Christine all described fixed-term contracts for their first research delivery posts as providing a ‘get-out’ option – they could leave when the contract finished if they didn’t like the role and without feeling they had ‘given up’. Although Sugrah’s family were concerned about her job being fixed-term, she herself was not too worried: ‘I know I’ll be okay’. Simona and Ellen highlighted that supposedly ‘permanent’ jobs can be made redundant too and that, despite the name, these do not necessarily have any more stability than fixed-term contracts.
Attitudes to contracts could change with circumstances. For some, fixed-term contracts and uncertain renewals were acceptable while they were relatively young or without dependents – but some anticipated this might change in the future. It was only when she became pregnant and wanted to buy a house that Tabitha felt worried about her fixed contract length.
Many said their fixed-term contracts were eventually made into permanent ones. Jisha thinks her Trust’s move to permanent contracts for research nurses had ‘made a big difference’ to staff retention and attracting applicants to job advertisements. However, this change was seen as unlikely in some settings. Graham explained that there were very few permanent research paramedic posts ‘because of the way the ambulance services are funded’.
Other people had research delivery posts with permanent contracts. Libby felt ‘lucky’ to have this and that it was ‘quite forward thinking’ of her employer to recognise that research staff would always be in demand: ”if it dries up over here, we’ll use you over there’. This reflected, as Alison described, the fact that different employers allocated funding to staff in various ways, depending on whether they were seen as being ‘study specific’ posts or as a workforce ‘pool’.
Contract renewals was a source of anxiety for research NMAHPs, but often also for their team leaders/managers too. Several of the research NMAHPs in team leadership roles spoke about fears around funding cuts to research activity and workforce budgets. Helen said, ‘It’s quite a tense time because you can’t put your hand on your heart and say, ‘Yes, we will make it a permanent contract,’ but you really hope you can’. However, Karen felt it was better for newly-qualified physiotherapists be on a fixed-term contract of about one year as she felt it was risky for them to stay in research for too long without building up their clinical (non-research) experience.
Some people had part-time hours, either because this was their preference or because the post was only available with these terms. For those who wanted to also have a separate clinical non-research job part-time, this could work well; for others, being employed only part-time was a concern. Some found there were contractual barriers to combining a part-time research job with a part-time clinical non-research job. When Sarah tried to arrange to work clinically one-day a week, she found they ‘couldn’t commit to one day a week long-term, even though every single day there’s bank shifts that go out’. Osi started on a fixed-term contract with part-time hours but, ‘within the month’, it was changed to full-time hours.
For many, the appeal of research delivery jobs had been changes in working hours. Research NMAHP jobs were usually based on core ‘social hours’ of the weekday (i.e. 8/9am-4/5/6pm Monday to Friday, or within this if part-time). Some people directly compared this to their previous working hours in a clinical non-research role, which usually included shifts on evenings/nights, weekends and bank holidays. Ginny found working clinically as a midwife ‘exhausting and a really, really, really hard job one of the reasons I wanted to move was to get out of that environment’. Louise described herself as ‘a morning person’ and much preferred the work hour pattern in her research role compared to night shifts. Louise, Christine and Jo commented that shifts (especially nights) became more difficult ‘as you get older’. Since stopping shift work, Laura Y found ‘the quality of my life has improved so much. I can sleep properly now’. Those with children often commented that this arrangement was more family-friendly overall.
However, a few people found that there were aspects of working shifts that they missed. This included the extra income from working unsociable hours, the camaraderie of some teams/roles and easier parking or eligibility for parking permits at work when employed for unsociable hours. Imogen explained, ‘I lost a lot of money, but it has given me a lot more consistency in my work-life balance’. Osi had quite liked the changing shift patterns from week-to-week, which she no longer had.
Other people had not worked shifts previously. Rachel X had been a community midwife, and her hours when she moved into research were fairly similar. As a radiographer by background, Sanjos’ hours stayed almost the same – except he was no longer on-call for weekends.
Despite the appeal of set sociable hours in many research delivery jobs, this was not always the case in reality. Some research NMAHPs occasionally worked evenings and weekends; although, as Laura Y explained, extra hours could usually be taken off another time (sometimes at time and a half). Michael recalled staying late for studies which involved long observation periods. There were a few research NMAHPs or their teams where working on weekends or late shifts was part of the role. Imogen said that Band 6 research nurses in her team worked 12-hour shifts, up to midnight, six days a week; this was seen as necessary in her area of emergency medicine as they would otherwise miss a lot of potential participants.
In general, many people felt the flexibility in research was a major asset. James liked that ‘we can come in a bit earlier, stay a bit later’ and vice versa. Again, for those with children, this was important. Tabitha found that, if her baby was poorly and she couldn’t come into work, ‘without question, they’ll give it. Whereas if I were a clinical midwife that just wouldn’t happen at all’. Many people also emphasised that flexible working could be beneficial to research too; as Sarah phrased it, to help meet ‘the needs of the service’.
Some people found the boundaries between work and home blurred in other ways too. Osi didn’t work weekends but was sometimes contacted by colleagues for guidance on eligible patients they had come across. Some found it was also very easy to work over their allotted hours, especially when the work required travel (e.g. to do home visits with study participants). Nicky worked part-time but often worked from home on her days ‘off’ as well: ‘things like keeping an eye on emails or people will ring me’. Sian and Simona found that calling participants in the evening worked because they were more likely to be available then.
Those who led their own research studies, including as part of academic qualifications or skills development internships, also talked about their contract arrangements and working hours. For example, Rachel Y started as a researcher in radiotherapy on a contract that was reviewed every few months for first two years; this was ‘quite scary’ and she didn’t like ‘having to prove myself every three months’. Karen emphasised that it was her choice to work long weeks and weekends in order to maintain both a clinical and research career in physiotherapy.
*The people interviewed for this website were mostly research NMAHPs (i.e. those employed in a research delivery role). However, we also interviewed some NMAHP researchers (i.e. those leading research as independent researchers). The latter group included people who were undertaking or had completed academic research qualifications, such as PhDs, and many had previously been in (or continued to also be in) research delivery roles. For more information about the distinctions between these roles and the sample of NMAHPs interviewed for this project, please see the Introduction section.
*Many research NMAHPs and NMAHP researchers felt strongly that they continued to be clinical within their research roles. As such, the wording of ‘research’ NMAHPs/staff and ‘clinical’ NMAHPs/staff can be problematic for implying that research is not also clinical activity. Where the wording ‘clinical staff’ is used on the website, we mean for this refer to non-research clinical staff (i.e. those who are not currently employed to carry out research or enrolled to pursue research through an academic qualification).