Why central flex pools do not work…

Author: Karlijn Dirkx, PlanMen Associate
Why central flex pools do not work…

You often bump into central flex pools, especially in health care, but also in other branches. That is a pool of temporary staff and other flexible employees who are employed in different places in the organization.

The staff planning of the flex pool is organised centrally, for example by the planning office or a flexi agency. The goal is to create a safety net to plug gaps in the 'duty roster' in the departments, and to organize the staffing more efficient and cheaper while maintaining quality of service.

That sounds very nice, but in practice this is different.

It doesn't work, because...

1. Team managers regularly…

  • need to find a solution for understaffing at the last minute
  • spend a lot of time arranging a replacement or outsourcing to someone from the team

2. Permanent employees preferably ...

  • seek a solution for gaps in the roster within the own team
  • only pass the problem on to the flex pool at the very last moment
  • also keep looking for a solution so that there are two people trying hard to fill the same position

3. Flex pool staff are often ...

  • not flexible but always want to work on the same days and times
  • not available when they are called
  • not willing to work on different departments
  • not properly experienced and can therefore do very little


What you see is that the central flex pool gets into a downward spiral. Confidence in the flex pool decreases; services are reported to the flex pool less often and shorter in advance. The chance that a (suitable) flex pool employee will still be found is getting ever smaller. And that contributes to the loss of trust.

The central flex pool set up in good faith disappears on the background. And the organization adds an unfinished and thus failed implementation to the list...

Or after disappointing results of the central flex pool, a lot of effort goes into a counter movement; decentralization.

A lack of commitment is the cause

Things often go wrong in the 'establishment' of central flex pools, because the departments and employees (may) choose to accept the fun but not the responsibilities. Departments may decide for themselves whether or not they use the flex pool, and when and how. The flex pool employees also have a lot of freedom to determine if, when and where they want to work.

The reasons of organizations, departments, and employees to give each other (and take) this space are legitimate. That does not, however, affect the conclusion: it is the lack of commitment that will be the death of the central flex pool.

Commitment is the solution

The situation as outlined above existed in a successful care organization. The organization was faced with the choice to remove or re-design the flex pool. From an internal investigation, it appeared that there was a great need for stability and time saving by a centrally organized 'safety net'. In the many discussions that were held during the internal investigation it also appeared that:

  • Team managers were willing to contribute themselves by
  • transferring their own temporary staff to the flex agency
  • regularly issue a forecast for the flex pool
  • reserving part of their formation for deployment of flex pool staff
  • The flex office was therefore able to
  • make suitable arrangements with employees on their availability
  • where necessary, work additional people in on time.
  • The interviews in advance and involving teams and employees in the new establishment of the flex pool led to:
  • commitment of all those involved
  • joint responsibility
  • the willingness to not only take but also give

The basis for success had been laid. And they worked happily ever after...

Questions or comments regarding this blog? Contact Timewax.

Bart van der Wijst
Bart is Managing Director of PlanMen. PlanMen helps organizations with staff and or capacity planning to better organize their people and work. PlanMen also provide various training courses in the field of Workforce Management