Eight elements of positive staff experience

Information and resources outlining eight essential elements for an effective staff experience strategy.

19 March 2024

This page was created in collaboration with health and wellbeing, staff experience, HR and equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) leads, and outlines the critical steps and considerations for achieving a robust and sustainable staff experience programme / initiative. This will also support NHS organisations to realise the aspirations outlined in the Long Term Workforce Plan and the NHS People Promise.

This guidance is designed for specialists in all areas of staff experience, including health and wellbeing, reward and recognition, staff engagement, freedom to speak up guardians and EDI leads.

Download the eight elements poster to share, print and use within your organisation. 

  • Create an inclusive, compassionate and supportive culture

    An inclusive culture means celebrating and embracing our differences, and providing the opportunity for everyone to have a voice and make positive contributions. It is about ensuring everyone feels physically and psychologically safe. 

    Organisations need to be clear and transparent about what this looks like in practice, and how to make it a lived reality for all employees.

    A leadership culture where compassion and support are demonstrated and wellbeing is prioritised, is key in enabling staff to engage and prioritise their own wellbeing. Leaders should model positive behaviours such as openly challenging stigmas and dispelling myths which segregate and marginalise individuals. 

    Sharing personal experiences, being curious and talking about taboo subjects normalises the conversation and encourages staff to seek help should they need it.

    Recruiting a diverse board with a mixture of backgrounds, skills and experiences is a good way to embed inclusivity at a senior level and have top-down influence on inclusive practices in the organisation.

    Influence your board-level leaders

    Gaining support for your staff experience agenda at board level is crucial to fulfilling the aims of your strategy and ensuring staff experience is at the heart of organisational strategy. Forming constructive relationships with your board-level representative is key to achieving this. This could be your health and wellbeing guardian, HR director, or someone that champions staff experience and sits on the board. 

    Ensure that you keep these colleagues in the loop about any challenges, how you intend to address them and the support you need to make it a lived reality. Highlight positive achievements, key developments in your programme to demonstrate positive changes you have made in the organisation and the impact this has had on the workforce.

    Have an effective staff experience lead to drive your plan

    It is important to make sure you have an effective staff experience lead, who can drive the agenda forward. Your lead may coordinate specific areas of staff experience, or your entire staff experience programme. 

    This lead need the right tools, training, experience and support to enable them to make a positive difference. It is also crucial that the wider organisation is aware who your staff experience lead is, and understands the role they play and support they can offer.

    • Consider recruiting from different industries and backgrounds to bring new perspectives and increase diversity.
    • Broaden your lead’s experience through development opportunities such as secondments and training to enhance knowledge in areas of staff experience and healthcare settings. For example, Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust runs a management essentials programme and a senior leadership training programme. The trust also provides training on handling difficult conversations, a skill that is often vital in this role.
    • Encourage them to use evidence-based strategies in their approach. Read our article on evidence-based approaches to workforce wellbeing.
    • Develop their stakeholder management skills, including their ability to influence at a board level.
    • Support them to lead improvement with the trust, shifting mindsets from firefighting to continuous improvement. Read NHS England’s leading improvement guide for more information,
    • Embed introductions to staff experience leads into your induction programme to raise the profiles of your leads within the organisation.

    Upskill your line managers

    Your line managers have a significant influence on employee attitudes and behaviours and can impact on the success of your staff experience strategy. They are often the eyes and ears for how staff are feeling on the ground. Line managers should be trained in relevant policies, procedures, and know where to signpost their staff for useful information and support. 

    The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) outlines the crucial role that managers play in supporting employee wellbeing and engagement. Therefore, managers need to be able to demonstrate supportive behaviours towards their staff, so that they can address staff experience challenges before they escalate. 

  • Have a clear vision

    Outline what your vision is for your programme, and why, considering how it relates to the wider organisational goals and values. Think about how your vision may impact your staff and use this to guide how you convey it to your audience. Are you expecting push back and how would you address it? Are you influencing board level leaders or presenting your vision to the staff it is likely to effect? Your approach should be clear, consistent, realistic and evidence based to gain maximum support.

    • Working at a system level means organisations can share their expertise and learn what others are doing. This means better experiences for patients and staff. It is also important to remember that your staff and patients are part of the community. Looking after your community will have a positive impact on population health outcomes.

    Identify all your activities and create one strategy

    Pull together all your programme’s activities, outlining how each activity contributes towards the overarching strategy. This helps the board and staff understand the role of your activities and enables them to think about ways they could contribute to its success. Ensure you allow for flexibility in your approach, so that you can add new activities or change the ones that are not working according to staff needs.

    Set robust, measurable objectives

    When setting objectives, consider how they will contribute to the overall aims of your programme, and how you will measure performance. The objectives should always be clear, provable and relevant to your role and the remit of your strategy. Keep in mind that achieving objectives can be dependent upon a number of factors beyond your control, such as the availability of certain resources. 

    It is therefore important to make sure that your objectives are realistic to achieve and that you have considered overcoming any barriers and alternative approaches if your initial plan is not successful. Setting clear and robust objectives is important in your evaluation, as it helps you to define and measure success.

  • Identify all useful data sources

    You can use a variety of metrics to measure staff experience in your organisation. This will allow you to adopt an evidence-based approach when formulating your strategy. It is important to identify which data sources are useful and decide what impact each metric has on staff and patients. 

    Consider whether you need to talk to staff about key metrics to fully understand the context and the impact this is having. For a more accurate indication of how staff are feeling, use multiple data sets to build a holistic picture. For example, looking at your occupational health referral reasons, in conjunction with absence rates, can help you make informed decisions on how to best support staff.

    You could also consider data-driven improvement tools such as the model health system which provides benchmarked insight and identifies areas for improvement for acute, community, and mental health trusts.

    Ensure your data is accurate and up to date

    Having up to date, real time data is important to help you gain an accurate picture of what is happening in your organisation. Make sure managers know how to log data on to the electronic staff record (ESR) system accurately, and ensure that you are collecting the right data at the right time. You can also use regular pulse surveys to get a snapshot of data on how your staff are feeling and if this changes over time.

    Gain insight into your staff needs

    Once you understand the needs of your staff, you can develop effective plans for addressing specific issues in your organisation. The best way to do this is to ask your staff directly and identifying trends in responses. Work with the wider multidisciplinary team to understand how gaps in fulfilling staff needs can be met. Remember that basic staff needs should always be at the top of your agenda.

    Understand your demographics

    Make sure you know who your staff are and the demographics across the organisation, so you can create an action plan that represents your entire workforce. This can also help you tailor your approach to interventions and ensure they are as effective as possible. 

    Encouraging your staff to disclose their disabilities, sexualities and other data related to protected characteristics can help you gain insight into how best to support your workforce. Ensure that you only collect data that you need, complying with GDPR regulations. You may want to explore any hesitancy related to disclosing such information to understand if it is deep rooted organisational culture, the reasons for this, and how you can address it.

    Use data to drive decision making

    Align your programme to your workforce challenges by using your data to understand where these challenges impact most in your organisation and enabling tailored approaches to be taken where needed. Develop a clear goal/desired output for staff and include these in your planning. 

    Our evidence-based approaches to workforce wellbeing page details evidence to workforce wellbeing and provides a useful basis for reviewing your approach.

  • Have clear messages

    Use simple language and clear messages to ensure that all your staff can engage with your staff experience strategy. Avoid overusing jargon and abbreviations as this may exclude potential readers. Outline why the message you are communicating is important and how it impacts your audience.

    Choose your communication channels to suit your audience

    Everyone digests information differently and accesses it in different ways. Consider the demographics in your organisation and how your target audience tends to best respond to your communication methods. Some may prefer modern electronic methods, while others like to get information through face-to-face meetings. 

    Present sensitive topics in a sensitive manner. For example, some staff may feel uncomfortable speaking openly about the menopause, so you could set up a menopause networking group where vital information can be shared in a safe space.

    Develop a recognisable staff experience campaign

    You could consider developing a staff experience campaign to assist in the recognition and promotion of this work through using identifiable logos, colours, and terminology to represent the work you are doing across the trust. It is helpful to have all your resources and support accessible under one hub, ensuring that online content is readily accessible in other forms for those who may not have access. It also helps you to formulate all your activities into one strategy.

    • Read our flexible working enablers for change web page to learn how the FlexNHS movement was established to create a supportive, encouraging and resourceful network to promote and enable flexible working for everyone in the NHS. The campaign was used to generate more conversations about the benefits of flexible working and dispel any myths.

    Provide regular updates

    Update your staff regularly on the progress of any new initiatives or changes to existing ones. Showcase where possible how you have implemented the changes that your staff ask for, this will help to ensure their continued engagement/feedback and support for your initiatives.

  • Listen to your staff

    Engage your staff by consulting them directly on what they want and need. This is vital to delivering a robust staff experience programme that meets staff needs. You can learn about the art of staff engagement on our web pages.

    Engage with key stakeholders

    There are lots of different people across your organisation who might be involved in implementing a staff experience programme. Where possible, make sure that you engage with occupational health, physiotherapist, communications, human resources, learning and development, public health, finance and anyone else you think might have a part to play. You can also work with your local community to make the best use of public services available. 

    Engage a wider audience within your trust with your agenda through recruiting:

    Involve and engage staff union reps

    Partnership working is critical in ensuring the success of your health and wellbeing programme. Work with your trade union reps to create strategies and policies. You can read more on working effectively with trade unions on the Social Partnerships Forum (SPF) website

    The NHS Staff Council’s Health, Safety and Wellbeing Group (HSWG) works in partnership to support compliance with health and safety legislation and the raising of standards of workplace health, safety, and wellbeing in NHS organisations across the UK. The group promotes a safer working environment for all healthcare staff by promoting partnership working between employers and trade unions across the NHS and promotes best practice across the NHS and independent sector.  Their webpage has information and resources to support you in your workplace.

  • Look ahead

    Where possible, anticipate challenges before they occur. Embedding healthy, preventative behaviours in your organisation can often help negate future challenges. This could be ensuring all staff have anti-racism training as part of their induction, ensuring that staff are aware of time-sensitive reward incentives, such as deadlines for buying and selling annual leave.

    It can often be impossible to predict unforeseen circumstances such as a pandemic, however, investing in staff experience at all times can help ensure the organisation is better equipped to support staff during challenging times and to build staff and organisational resilience.

    Our staff experience web pages have information and resources to help you retain your talented staff through a positive and supportive workplace experience.

    Encourage collective responsibility for a positive staff experience

    Make it clear that creating a positive staff experience is everyone’s responsibility. Ensuring staff experience leads collaborate with each other and the wider multidisciplinary team can ease the pressure on individual teams and helps consider the breadth of staff experience overall. Senior managers should also be expected to exemplify and promote positive behaviours and effectively support their staff.

    Encourage and empower your staff to take some ownership of their staff experience. Working in such a busy environment means that staff may not take the time to engage with many staff experience initiatives, so creating a culture where staff are listened to can motivate them take some personal responsibility for their experience at work. You can do this if you:

    • encourage staff to approach their line managers openly and honestly about their personal needs. This could be through wellbeing conversations. You may also promote taking advantage of flexible working opportunities; read what NHS organisations are doing to support staff to work flexibly
    • educate your staff about self-compassion at work
    • encourage them to take advantage of the total reward offer at your organisation
    • encourage them to speak up about workplace inequalities/ discrimination to drive change.
  • Take a targeted approach to identified challenges 

    Target your initiatives to help support your staff. You can use your data to find where hotspots are and learn good practice from areas that are doing well. Ensure you consider the impact and potential barriers, and be mindful that particular staff groups may need more support than others.

    • Get creative through using networking opportunities to gain insight into what other organisations are doing in the area you want to focus on. See how North East Ambulance Service Trust’s involvement in NHS Employers’ Reward and Recognition Network prompted innovative thinking.
    • Think about how the current climate impacts your interventions. For example, you may need to factor in the effect of the cost of living on your reward offer. Our hub draws together important resources and good employer practice with examples from across the NHS.
    • Read our case study with University Hospitals of Derby and Burton (UHDB) that highlights a wellbeing event the organisation held for its specialty and specialist (SAS) doctors.

    Use available internal and external support services

    You may already have the services in your organisation that you are looking for. Ensure you use internal resources and talent to make the most of what is available. This could be using specialist menopause nurses to speak at menopause events, inviting inspirational internal ethnic minority leaders to speak at EDI network meetings, or using existing facilities to create additional staff benefits, such as rapid access for rehabilitation and occupational health treatments for staff. You could also reach out to local charities to see how you can work in partnership to offer a better staff experience.

    Ensure initiatives are inclusive and accessible

    It is really important to make sure all your staff can access your initiatives. If it is likely to exclude certain groups, how can you ensure it is inclusive and accessible? Think about the timing of your initiatives. Is it best to schedule activities at lunchtime or would the start or end of shifts be better? Make sure that your night shift staff have the same access to initiatives and activities as others.

  • Use your objectives to build a robust evaluation plan from the start

    In creating your clear strategic vision, you will set robust, measurable objectives. Use these to form the basis of your evaluation plan. It's important to plan how you are going to evaluate your programme before you start any interventions, this helps you to set measurable objectives and determine what success looks like. It can give you focus and ensure that you are doing the right activities according to your objectives. 

    Often evaluation is an afterthought, but in planning early, you can demonstrate the impact of your programme from the outset and ensure interventions are aligned with strategic objectives.

    If your programme is evaluating well, interrogate what works and replicate it. If your interventions are not working, find out why and amend them accordingly. Is it because you didn't communicate well or are the initiatives not what staff want? Do your initiatives have a lasting and positive impact? Are they having the intended impact?

    Where something is not working make a change. Make sure that you communicate your findings to your staff and the board, and keep in mind your strategy is likely to evolve over time through trial and error, and changing staff needs.