A well-engaged workforce is the key to successful and sustainable health and social care…

The latest results of the NHS Staff Survey show a concerning decline in response rates from 49% (2013) to 42% (2014). This is a significant reduction at a time when the future sustainability and success of the NHS has never been more important, against the backdrop of funding pressures, system change and the management of increasingly elderly patient base with complex healthcare conditions. 
The NHS’ 1.3 million staff do more than 300 jobs across 1,000 different employers[iii] and as might be expected, this hugely varied workforce contains just as many varied personal expectations and aspirations, from career path and ambition, to profession and work patterns. 
This workforce is of vital importance to the wellbeing of patients, but not just for the obvious excellent care they must deliver. Several years ago I was fortunate to work on the UK policy ‘Accounting for People’ which found a correlation between high performing firms and an engaged employee workforce. Now that theme is becoming prevalent across the NHS. Employee engagement within the NHS is linked to better staff health and wellbeing, better patient satisfaction and also correlates to improved clinical outcomes[iv].

A disengaged workforce is a risk no NHS organisation can afford to take lightly.

Monitor hold a similar view and believe it is key to performance and sustainable organisations. In future, it will be tracking staff engagement scores as a clear indicator of a professional, well-run organisation.

The lower response rate in this year’s NHS Staff Survey does not mean that staff are less engaged, but it is a concerning trend. It is the responsibility of senior managers to improve these scores, and really take into account the four key factors that the cross-party “Engage for Success” movement spawned from the MacLeod Review state are essential for strong employee engagement:

  • A strong strategic narrative ensures that everyone is privy to the same information about the organisation’s direction;
  • Engaging managers ensures that line managers can reinforce the message to their staff;
  • Employee voice takes on board and acts on feedback from the grass roots as well as top down (from Ward to Board);
  • Organisational integrity - where the organisation says it is going to do something, it takes forward its plans and sticks to them, or explains why it hasn’t if plans change.

 

Why is employee engagement important in 2015?

We should all be committed to a greater focus on employee engagement. 2015 is a big year for employee engagement – with Monitor assessing trusts’ staff survey results for the first time as evidence of a sustainable organisation (as mentioned above), the Whistleblowers’ Act and the ongoing work from the Dalton Review focusing on compassionate care and the scrutiny around treatment of patients. These have been strong themes and drivers following the events in Mid-Staffs and the subsequent Francis Report.

In a world where people are living longer, with more complex health conditions and co-morbidities, the ability of employee engagement to improve both culture and employees’ happiness at work and patient outcomes is incredibly powerful and a key factor in smooth organisational transformation.

There are pockets of staff engagement singing loudly in England – not least programmes such as Listening into Action , created with the NHS in mind, show staggeringly good results of improved employee engagement and therefore clinical outcomes, when implemented.

Engagement during transformation

At a time of increased focus on nursing ratios many trusts are struggling to recruit and retain the staff they know are critical to safe care. There are areas carrying high numbers of vacancies planning recruitment campaigns in mainland Europe and beyond, to avoid any repeat of Mid -Staffs and to ensure there are enough staff to reshape care around the needs of those using the NHS.

In parts of the UK where several NHS organisations co-exist, news about culture can travel fast! Staff can vote with their feet and opt to work for a “better” employer - employers who are prepared to engage the frontline, support their leaders and managers through transformation programmes to deliver challenging messages but can provide a better, more inclusive and supportive working environment, and an open, adult conversation about the realities, benefits and risks so staff know what is happening, alleviating anxiety. This enables staff to then focus on their prime concern – their patients.

With the advent of seven-day working, new ways of working across new PACS and MCP organisational boundaries and the move to greater locality-based working, trusts that can support and engage their staff through these huge transformations will retain valued people. They will in turn reduce their reliance on expensive agency and interim staff and become known as good employers in their area.

At Channel 3 Consulting we support Monitor’s increased focus on good staff engagement as an indicator of future success.

We believe that engaging staff, empowering them to affect change themselves and evolving their own careers and local healthcare system as a result, is fundamental to NHS success.

We are working with Boards, Unions and staff to help them approach employee engagement differently. We are passionate about the NHS, we work in partnership with our NHS clients, supporting them in realising transformation that will result in improved performance for patients, the healthcare system and all those who dedicate their working lives to the NHS.