Another year of staff engagement


17 / 12 / 2015 12.52pm

In our latest blog Steven Weeks reflects on what's been going on in staff engagement in 2015.

2015 has been a challenging year for staff engagement. The intensifying pressures on the NHS clearly had an impact on engagement levels in 2014. The financial context for the NHS has become increasingly challenging. It remains to be seen how these will impact on the 2015 Staff Survey results. 

Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections have also shown a mixed picture. In the first half of 2015 the CQC revised its inspection framework to look at whether an organisation is well led which includes an assessment of the level of staff engagement. Initially it focussed on the trusts identified as having difficulties and as a results its assessments were often negative. For example, around one in three were judged to be inadequate and seven were placed into special measures. These trusts had high levels of disengagement and in few cases a dysfunctional culture with high levels of bullying and harassment. The widespread media coverage of these reports reinforced a negative perception of the NHS. More recently CQC inspections have revealed a more positive picture with a growing percentage of organisations rated as good and a falling percentage assessed as inadequate. Most are assessed as requiring improvement. Three organisations have come out of special measures following subsequent reassessments by the CQC. 

On the positive side 2015 saw a widespread effort to improve communication, strengthen involvement and create greater opportunities for staff to be given feedback. In many trusts, senior leaders sought to become more visible and clinical leaders in particular have adopted ‘back to the ward’ approaches. Trusts moved from developing values to ensuring that values shaped behaviours often by linking to appraisal systems. New approaches to staff involvement were adopted in many trusts and there has been new focus on partnership working and of use of suggestion schemes. The number of trusts working with Listening into Action has increased. There has been a growth in formal schemes to recognise staff contribution with over sixty such schemes identified by NHS Employers in the Valuing staff with recognition schemes briefing. There is some emerging evidence of the positive impact of this new focus from CQC inspection reports, as well in our briefing,  although the overall data on the state of staff engagement in the NHS will not be available until the 2015 staff survey is published. 

Throughout the year we have continued to identify the critical role that frontline leaders play in developing and sustaining staff engagement. A range of new materials have been added to the NHS Employers’ website to assist line managers with staff engagement. A number of trusts have strengthened the support for line managers recognising the critical role they play in developing engagement.

The implementation of the Staff Friends and Family Test provided an additional source of data and channel for communication. It has allowed trusts to track trends during the year and take action on emerging issues. There are concerns about the frequency of the collection and the resources it consumes which we have expressed to NHS England as part of its ongoing review. The participation rate has been lower than for the staff survey but there have been over 150, 000 responses during the year. The overall willingness to recommend the NHS as a place to work and be treated has remained high and broadly stable over the year. In the most recent data 62 per cent of staff say they would recommend the NHS as a place to work and 78 per cent as a place to be treated. The CQC’s State of Care 2015 report highlighted the strong correlation between the willingness of staff to recommend the NHS and overall assessment of patient care. 

We have continued to work closely with the Engage for Success organisation, to share knowledge and experience across the economy and we were pleased to support the 2015 Engage for Success conference. Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust was featured in a session on the link between staff engagement and health and wellbeing. 

The 2015 Staff Survey has now closed and results will be released early in the New Year. We will be analysing the results to see what impact wider factors are having and advising employers on how best to respond. We would like to take this opportunity to thank employers for all their efforts in seeking to sustain staff engagement in challenging times. A round-up of the most recent developments in staff engagement can be found in December's staff engagement newsletter.

I am keen to hear any experiences you may have to share or any ideas about how we could help you to sustain staff engagement in 2016.

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