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The University of Southampton
Working as a Researcher

You matter

Not all jobs are, or need to be, 9-5 Monday-Friday, certainly not in many areas of academic research.  It is more likely under Covid-19 your work pattern needs to be more flexible and adaptable in any case.

Normally, 'flexible working' is a wide-reaching term. It can cover a mix of options such as flexi-time, home- or remote- working, compressed or staggered hours, reduced (part-time) hours and job sharing.  Covid-19 may mean adapting your working day to fit in around other responsibilities, such as school runs, home schooling or caring roles. With working from home  the focus should be on your outputs rather than time spent being 'present' - discuss any informal changes you may need with your line manager/PI. Small changes, such as restricting meetings to between 10am and 3pm, or working sets of core hours across the week, may help you wellbeing enormously.    

Formally, an employee has the legal right to request flexible working in certain circumstances. However it often happens that changes in working patterns can be negotiated informally within the team or department. Rather than seeing flexible working as a 'problem' or 'demotion', the University regards it as a mutual opportunity for line managers or PIs and their staff to re-think with a win-win outcome.

As a researcher or other team member, you may be:

  • caring for or home-schooling young or disabled children
  • caring for dependent adults
  • taking on additional paid work, study or other activities
  • managing a longer-term illness or a disability
  • managing changes in personal circumstances

As a line manager, you could find that some form of flexible working might:

  • provide continuity (where the alternative might be to lose a skilled and experienced team member)
  • if someone reduces their hours, make it possible to buy in complementary skills from another part-time researcher
  • better accommodate peaks and troughs in workload.

As a team you can:

  • re-evaluate how you operate and perhaps find other opportunities for more efficient working
  • use flexi-time or home working to save time and money by avoiding travel at peak times
  • exploit widely-used technology such as Skype for discussions between colleagues in different locations.

Helpful resources

Human Resources

Information on flexible working including flexi-time, job sharing and working from home.

Government website

Find a good overview of the options and benefits of flexible working, including an online tool for to make a statutory application.

Offers career advice on negotiating part time hours.

Covid-19 update: Sabbaticals are not available at the moment - although the University is offering a range of options under the voluntary savings measures.

Sometimes, through choice or necessity, you may put your normal working pattern on hold for a while. This section looks at options both to keep you going at the end of a fixed-term fellowship, and to support you in coming back into academia after a longer break.

Career breaks

Reasons for taking an elective or enforced break might include:

  • A gap until the next block of funding commences
  • Family and caring responsibilities
  • Serious injury or illness
  • Change of career plans or discipline
  • External events such as major restructuring within your previous research institute, forcing you to look for another job sooner than planned.

Subject to certain conditions being satisfied, the University considers applications for career breaks from all eligible staff regardless of the number of hours you work. If you have worked for us for at least five years, you may be granted a career break of one to three years.


The first step is to talk to your lead researcher, Head of Research or Faculty. They may be aware of internal opportunities, for example using your skills to help complete an existing project to schedule.

Returning to work after extended leave

If you have taken an extended break, for example through maternity leave or a serious illness, it's usually a priority to get your research work back on track. If you are in a teaching or mixed academic role, you may wish to negotiate for your full teaching workload to be deferred. 


Established academics may take the option of a period of sabbatical leave to pursue research interests in more depth.

Do you live to work, or work to live? Are you achieving the right balance between research work and other interests or commitments?

Working families  is a comprehensive and authoritative external website with advice for parents (Dads as well as Mums), carers and employers.

You may be considering the best point to take a complete break from academia, whether for family or other reasons. The University of Manchester has produced a useful set of questions and options to consider: for most people there are no easy answers.  

The University of Southampton's new HR website contains a section on work-life balance.

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