How to develop a staff engagement strategy


11 / 12 / 2014 3.48pm

It is essential that staff engagement strategies are developed according to local conditions and based on discussions with key stakeholders. NHS Employers therefore does not recommend a model engagement strategy, as strategies need to be developed based on the context and challenges faced by the organisation.

Developing your approach to staff engagement may feel like an overwhelming challenge. Given the range of other issues facing the NHS it may even feel like a distraction. Improving staff engagement is however a key part of meeting these challenges as it is linked to better financial performance, increased staff health and wellbeing and improved services for patients.

First Steps

  • Assess the current levels of staff engagement for an overview of current issues and areas for action. For further information read our tips for continually assessing staff engagement.
  • Secure support for the new focus via a discussion with the board/senior leaders
  • Organise direct engagement between senior leaders and front line staff. This needs to be done carefully to avoid being tokenistic or unsustainable.
  • Ensure line managers understand and feel they are part of the new approach, for example, by running briefing or training sessions.
  • Review and improve internal communications, making best use of all available communication methods and ensuring dispersed staff are kept informed. Run an engagement exercise around a particular issue, for example, the reorganisation of services in a particular area.
  • Make the links with patient satisfaction and improved quality and productivity.  Some organisations have implemented approaches which get staff to put themselves in patient's shoes or give staff direct access to patient feedback.
  • Link to other priority areas, such as health and wellbeing. It is clear that staff engagement influences issues such as staff absence levels.
  • Make reference to local values statements that build on those contained in the NHS Constitution.
  • Refer to the staff pledges in the NHS Constitution and especially the pledges of staff involvement.

Developing the strategy

  • Your activity on staff engagement should be linked to the overall workforce strategy of the organisation rather than a separate initiative.
  • It is recommended that the development of policy on staff engagement is not led solely by HR. There needs to be visible support for the policy from the board/chief executive and involvement of operational managers and clinicians. The communications team will have a key role to play.
  • One approach would be to form a working group of HR and other senior managers to take forward the plan and develop ideas (a group of five to seven people is the best size). You should share your plans with other stakeholders such as staff side representatives to help shape the strategy and give it more credibility.
  • It is essential that your staff engagement strategy is one which has a broad appeal. Non-HR managers will be most interested in the operational rather than employment relation benefits. For example, explaining the links between engaged teams and better performance may help you convince line managers. Clinicians will be most interested in the impact on patient satisfaction. You should work with communications colleagues to develop communications messages around staff engagement which are appropriate for the differing audiences.
  • The staff engagement policy should set out clear objectives. These will range from running specific events to increasing scores in the national staff survey. As with any objectives, these should be measurable.

Measures of success

  • The Staff Friends and Family Test is an important measure of staff engagement overall. Line Managers have a key role in shaping engagement and organisations could look at measures from the staff survey of line manager effectiveness and also other indicators on teamwork.
  • The CQC will make an assessment of the level of staff engagement as part of its inspection process under the heading of whether a service is well led.
  • The staff engagement strategy needs to have some short term evaluation criteria for example, attendance at staff engagement events or feedback from staff. In the medium term the staff engagement scores in the staff survey results will be a key outcome measure. In the short term the organisation will need interim measures. One method of assessing this is through what are known as 'pulse' surveys, which allow the organisation to gain an understanding of employee opinion on a more limited range of topics. In the longer term you should seek to evaluate the impact on overall organisational performance, although this is hard to assess.
  • A key snapshot indicator of the level of staff engagement is the willingness of staff to recommend their organisation as a place to work or be treated.
  • The NHS staff survey provides a single composite indicator of the level of staff engagement and trends, in this should be the key measures of progress. The 2012 Operating Framework asks organisations to use data from the staff survey to improve staff experience and highlights the benefits of staff engagement.
  • Staff engagement is linked to patient care and therefore measures of overall patient care and quality should be seen as indirect measures of the impact of the staff engagement strategy.

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