NHS needs to better engage employees

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Performance at individual NHS Trusts should be measured by the issues that matter most to employees, according to a report from the Work Foundation

The think-tank also found that better employee engagement needs to become a priority if the NHS is to solve its staffing crisis, and if mortality rates are to improve across the UK.

The Solving the Employee Engagement Puzzle in the NHS: Making a Better Case for Action report, seen exclusively by HR magazine, recommends that individual board members be held accountable for the issues that employees care most about, to ensure that problems such as sickness absence, bullying, and diversity can be dealt with at an early stage.

Researchers discovered varying levels of staff satisfaction, support and general happiness in NHS Trusts across the UK. But ‘employee engagement’ is defined and understood by employees and managers in different ways, they found.

Executive-level staff recognised the priority of achieving good quality patient care but discussed employee engagement in very ‘organisational terms’ – focusing on the need for employee motivation towards organisational goals and the importance of Trust advocacy.

Middle management, however, tended to define engagement in a way that related to an important element of their role, developing the employment relationship and two-way communications. Meanwhile, frontline staff were very much focused on engagement with their role, in terms of providing positive patient care and ensuring that their local team worked well together.

The Work Foundation is calling for all line managers to receive mandatory training in employee engagement and in conducting effective appraisals. The report authors also suggested that managers need to assess flexible working options and job design.

“We found that there needed to be far more consistency in the way that engagement is monitored – it’s really not straightforward. There are huge problems with productivity across the UK facing all employers. And there’s no silver bullet. Engagement is multi-faceted and multi-levelled, so we wanted to look at it from different angles and levels to get results,” Lesley Giles, director of the Work Foundation, told HR magazine.

Accountability is an important way to drive engagement and unlock potential, she added.

“Accountability isn’t about being punitive, it’s about looking at where people are feeling valued, and looking at different skillsets, experiences, and challenges to find out where the issues lie. We wanted to move away from constantly just providing initiatives, and leaving it up to civil servants and bodies, and give employees a sense of control and be part of the solution.”

The report comes at a time when NHS employees are facing significant pressure, Giles pointed out.

“The NHS is under serious pressure due to a host of issues including increasing demand, issues with staff recruitment and retention, challenges that Brexit may bring, changes to the training bursar – and all while cost savings need to be made. It is clear that action needs to be taken now, before the current level of goodwill from NHS employees runs out.”

The study was commissioned by The Health Foundation, in response to concerns that while employee engagement in the NHS has improved in the last five years, this does not potentially convey the true picture. The research took place over 12 months and included interviews and case studies.

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