Case Study

Staff recognition awards and improving culture

Read how Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust continues work on its commitment to enhance staff recognition and improve its culture.

17 July 2023

In 2021 Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust set out to revise its existing staff recognition scheme, with the aim of strengthening its culture around recognition to make it more meaningful for staff.  The new award scheme would recognise staff who truly went above and beyond in their work.

What the organisation faced

Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT) was formed on 1 April 2017 following the merger of North Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust and South Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust. It provides community health, mental health and learning disability services to support more than 3.2 million people living across Luton and Bedfordshire, Essex and Suffolk.

Historically the trust had always had some sort of recognition scheme in place. The trust felt it would be better for staff morale and motivation if a smaller number of staff were recognised properly for going above and beyond, rather than the previous scheme which had little tangible benefit or recognition attached to it.

What the organisation did

In the initial development phase, the staff engagement team conducted extensive research and held various networking sessions with colleagues from other trusts to develop the award categories. Five award categories were agreed and all staff, including bank and temporary staff, can be nominated:

  1. Hero Award – beyond the call of duty – this award is for a staff member who has not only done their job but gone above and beyond to help a patient, family member or colleague.
  2. Peer to Peer Recognition Award - this award provides the chance for staff to show each other just how much they deserve to be recognised for the fantastic work that they do.
  3. Team Recognition Award - this award aims to highlight EPUT teams where all members go the extra mile and deliver everyday excellence at work.
  4. Leadership Award – this award recognises examples of leadership where a colleague may have inspired or motivated others.
  5. Research, Innovation and Improvement Award – this award is open to all staff groups who have developed a new idea/project or an existing one that has been exceptionally implemented into their services to improve processes and procedures.

It was also important to the trust to provide patients and the general public with the opportunity to recognise staff for the work they do, so nominations for three of the five award categories can be made by these groups of people.

Staff have a profound impact on patients and the general public of which they serve, therefore opening up nominations to these people would provide a greater level of recognition.

Nominations can be made via a smart survey where colleagues, patients or the public can nominate a member of staff for an award. There are four quarterly windows, resulting in a total of 20 Recognition Award winners per year.

To make the process as inclusive as possible, nominations are anonymised after some basic checks with HR. All nominees are then notified that they have been put forward for a recognition award and the anonymised responses are judged by a panel.

Each year, all 20 recognition award winners are entered into the ‘Staff Recognition of the Year Award’. Each nomination will be judged personally by the trust’s chief executive and the winner is announced at the trust’s yearly Quality Awards.

The trust worked hard to Equality Impact Assess the scheme, to ensure the process was fair and equitable for all. Nominations are judged via an anonymous judging panel, made up from a diverse range of departments and networks, including the patient experience team, staff engagement team, one of the equality networks, the trust’s secretary’s office and a previous award winner.

The trust has invested in the recognition scheme due to the huge impact is has on staff morale, engagement, providing staff with a real sense of purpose. As well as a framed certificate, there is a small monetary value attached to winning an award; £50 online voucher of their choice, or £150 voucher for the team recognition award which is owned by the manager to be shared collectively across the team.

Results and benefits

Since its launch, the trust has received 675 nominations to date which equates to a moderate proportion of the workforce and there has been 40 winners in total. Due to COVID-19 putting a pause on face-to-face events, the winners of the ‘staff recognition of the year award’ for the last two years was presented and awarded at the Quality Awards on 5 July 2023.

The annual NHS Staff Survey results is just one of the ways EPUT monitors the impact initiatives such as the recognition awards have on engagement measures. Efforts have been made to improve and enhance reward and recognition over the years and since the launch of the renewed awards scheme, the trust has seen a steady but upward trend in the questions relating to morale and the satisfaction and extent to the way which the organisations values the work. The most recent 2022 Staff Survey had both positives and areas for improvement in both these areas, and as with other trusts, work continues to nurture a positive recognition culture across all levels and disciplines.

The trust also measured and monitored the number of nominations received and from where in the organisation these come from. Additionally, important measures through listening tools such as the National Quarterly Pulse Survey and its internal engagement champions network help to establish the impact it has.

Overcoming obstacles

EPUT initially set up the awards programme as a pilot in its first year to be able to improve the process if required. Since the recognition awards started, the trust has refined the process over time. To make it less of an administrative burden, they decided to compliance check the manager only for the ‘team recognition award’, because it became time consuming to check every team member, due to the size of some across the organisation. Since then accessibility has been increased by enabling staff, patients and the public to submit a nomination via the online survey, paper form or via a video.

Takeaway tips

  • There are numerous compliance checks required when first setting up a scheme. Working with the information governance team which supported this process was invaluable given the GDPR issues surrounding the sharing of individuals information.
  • Gaining board-level investment and buy in to support the recognition scheme is important, from the perspective of staff members feeling valued, with the addition of a small tangible reward for their hard work for going above and beyond in their role.
  • Use a wider range of channels, such as Facebook groups, networks and intranet pages to continue to shout about and recognise the award winners. This not only promotes the awards scheme, but staff being able to see what their colleagues say about them and congratulate them further increases levels of morale

Contact details

For more information contact Hannah Beckwith, Staff Engagement Coordinator.