How staff engagement in the NHS compares with other sectors

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06 / 8 / 2015 12.26pm

Starting this month, our policy manager Steven Weeks, will be writing a regular blog highlighting key staff engagement issues for employers. This month Steven looks at how staff engagement in the NHS compares with other sectors.

I have lost count of the number of reports citing a crisis in NHS staff morale levels and organisations failing to involve staff in decisions. Sadly, ‘the NHS has world class staff engagement’ is not a sentence you’ll currently read in published reports, however, our surveys prove that things may not be as bad as we’re led to believe.

Available evidence shows that staff engagement in the NHS is:

  • on average better than for the UK economy as a whole
  • in the case of best performers, easily comparable with best employers in the UK.

This is not to deny the challenges we undoubtedly face. According to the NHS Staff Survey, staff engagement levels fell from 3.71 in 2013 to 3.70 in 2014 and ranged between 3.28 and 4.03 on the five point scale.

There is no single method of measuring staff engagement across the economy as whole. The NHS has a composite measure of staff engagement that looks at staff job satisfaction, levels of involvement and willingness to recommend the service. The NHS has higher levels of job satisfaction than shown in UK economy wide surveys and is about average in terms of levels of involvement. The report also shows that it’s doing well at ward level, however, less so at organisational level. Currently there aren't any UK economy wide surveys that score staff recommendation.

Poor staff engagement wastes resources, affects wellbeing and has a negative effect on patients and not all NHS organisations provide staff with the pledges in the NHS Constitution. At a time when the NHS needs the ideas of all staff, it seems a shame not to maximise best use of them. It’s also true that the NHS can, and should learn from other organisations.

Civil service people management survey

It can be misleading to compare data with surveys that ask differing questions, however, the civil service people management survey is the only one that is directly comparable in terms of questions asked. Results vary by department, but overall the NHS does score slightly better with an overall engagement score of 3.71, compared to 3.59 in the civil service.

There is no comparable sector-wide survey for local authority staff, although many authorities do undertake their own surveys.

Private sector surveys

Comparisons with the private sector are not straightforward as most private sector organisations use consultancy surveys such as Gallup or their own in-house surveys with different questions to those within the NHS survey.

The best NHS organisations are comparable with leaders in the field. In many manufacturing and leading edge retail firms, staff involvement is regarded as key to improved productivity and the delivery of good service: these type of organisations and institutions score higher than the NHS average.

Learning and listening to others

While it’s important that the NHS can learn from others and should seek out best practice from other employers, it should also be sharing its successes more often. I believe the NHS should take pride in what has already been achieved in what is undoubtedly challenging times for the organisation.

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