The role of the board in staff engagement

Meeting room

04 / 3 / 2015 2.38pm

It is clear that both involvement and support from the board are essential ingredients in a successful staff engagement approach. 

Boards set the overall objectives and priorities of an organisation and in an NHS context they have a key role in monitoring quality and overall performance, which is closely linked to staff engagement. In 2013 NHS Employers asked HR directors if staff engagement was seen as a shared objective in their organisation and around two thirds said it was.

The King’s Fund has produced a new briefing which looks at some of the key roles that boards should play:

  • Boards can help create the compelling narrative that is the foundation of effective engagement. In an NHS context this means ensuring the organisation has patient care as a top priority. This enables staff to deliver compassionate care and develops values which are meaningful for staff.
  • Boards need to support an inclusive and distributed leadership style for example an approach to leadership, which ensures that the views of staff are sought out and listened to, that different views are treated as legitimate and gives the maximum amount of authority to leaders at all levels. This will help develop a culture of ongoing improvement rather than quality improvement being led by top-down or sporadic initiatives.

  • Boards (and board members) must exemplify the type of behaviours they want to see. They need to work as a collective leadership of the organisation and develop partnerships inside and outside their trust. They must tackle toxic practices such as bullying and harassment and ensure they have created a culture in which staff feel safe to raise concerns.

NHS Employers endorse these general principles and encourage HR directors to engage with their boards around engagement.  Likewise, the board should work with the HR team to ensure a number of things:

  • Boards should seek to ensure senior managers in the organisation understand the impact that staff experience and engagement can have on overall performance. Clinical leaders in particular should be aware of its impact on patient experience.
  • The board should regularly review key indicators around staff engagement levels, not just an annual report around the staff survey. Ongoing information can be obtained from Staff Friends and Family Test results and even more so from locally designed surveys and other forms of feedback. The data should be used as a diagnostic tool. Many boards already use patient stories and feedback to understand issues, staff feedback could also play a similar role. HR colleagues should lead this work but all board members should support this.

  • The board should support interventions to improve and sustain engagement as decided locally. It should seek this as an investment decision akin to capital investment. It should take into account the impact of other decisions, for example staffing levels on engagement. It can draw on the range of expertise from non-executives for ideas around engagement from inside and outside the NHS, although external ideas need to be appropriate.

Most boards are of course already doing this and many very successfully. We are keen to hear examples of this type of approach, please email

For additional information see our existing resources for senior leaders on our website.

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