Twelve top tips on staff engagement

We’ve pulled together 12 top tips from the organisations that saw the most improvement on the NHS Staff Survey.

15 July 2021

Persistence pays off

These organisations made a long-term commitment to improving staff experience through a focus on improved staff experience as a key element of improved care. Staff engagement is continuing focus rather than short-term goal.

Culture counts

Improved staff engagement is generally part of a wider culture change. The change needs to be embedded within the organisation through a range of interventions including the NHS England and Improvement culture change process. These changes need to make a difference to how things are done and translated from aspirations to actions. Staff need to have an input into the process.  

Staff experience shapes staff engagement

Action to support health and wellbeing and equality and diversity will reinforce staff engagement. These issues need a distinct focus which will also contribute to an overall improved staff experience.

Leadership from board to ward

High-profile and sustained support from the board and senior leaders is essential. This should be accompanied by support for line mangers to foster engagement. Visible senior leadership support for staff engagement was a key factor.

Communication is critical

Good communication with all staff is vital for ongoing staff engagement alongside high-profile engagement activity. Communication should be two-way with opportunity for staff to give feedback. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations have developed communications via closed staff Facebook groups, virtual forums with senior leaders, and regular cascaded team briefings.

Seek out views

The People Plan People Promise states that “everyone should have a voice that counts” and successful engagement needs to embrace all staff, regardless of background. Working with equality networks to get views from range of staff, the most improved trusts have made particular efforts to hear from groups that have historically had lower participation rates.

Adapt and innovate

Methods for seeking staff feedback should be adapted to context. The best balance between virtual and face-to-face will depend on context. These organisations make effective use of surveys but also used other feedback tools such as online staff forums and working with equalities networks. The most important ingredient for successful engagement is staff confidence that feedback will be acted on.

Locally led

Staff engagement solutions need to be owned locally and adapted to local circumstances. There are a range of techniques that have been used successfully in the NHS which can be adopted across organisations. Some of the most improved used listening into action, while others had their own involvement model.  Methods used ranged from informal tea trolley chats to formalised tools such as team time (virtual Schwartz rounds) and grounded truth conversations.  Online crowd sourcing was used in some and the most improved had made staff involvement central to quality improvement.

Recognise staff achievements

Recognising the achievements of staff in ways which support staff to feel valued and appreciated can make a real difference in staff engagement. Adapt the methods through refreshed approaches and innovative ideas. For example, moving from in person to virtual awards ceremonies, widening the criteria for awards and running high profile thank you events for staff.

Use data to inform action

Using data from a range of sources, such as local and national staff surveys, online feedback and information from line managers, enabled organisations to plan and prioritise. You should also link to information on overall workforce indicators such as absence and patient feedback to assess impact. Instead of an annual cycle linked to the NHS Staff Survey, data from all sources should inform ongoing action.

Working in partnership

Local staff side councils and trade unions have an essential role in supporting staff engagement. Examples ranged from staff side support for surveys to staff representation on trust boards.

Individual impact

Staff engagement starts with the individual. Staff need to feel engaged within their team and by their manager. Approaches from the most improved organisations included team development programmes to support individuals to work more effectively and line managers to lead in an engaging way.