Recent research we conducted into news sentiment for the NHS suggests 2/3 of news is negative, and this is particularly prevalent around performance and patient care. It should be no surprise to anyone that negative press impacts on how staff feel and perform, but what can be done about this?
Lack of engagement and low morale can affect standards of care and the efficiency and financial performance of the organisation. It’s a downwards spiral of causation, with lack of engagement leading to poorer care, leading to more negative press and even lower morale.
A recent article reports that only 14% of nurses surveyed are happy in their current role, with 57% considering a new role and 21% actively seeking a change. A survey of 1,600 nurses found that three quarters would actively avoid working for a Trust seen as having a poor track record in employee engagement. The Independent recently warned that the combination of budget cuts and criticism of the service since the Mid Staffordshire scandal has left frontline staff feeling so demoralised that standards of care are at risk.
Whatever the cause, the outcome is that morale is reduced and patients are affected. The tone of the press won’t change so organisations need to find other ways to engage their staff. This is now particularly important considering that a recent report by the Point of Care Foundation found patient satisfaction to be consistently higher in Trusts where staff report higher levels of health and well-being.
But the NHS is not powerless. Internally they can regain control and prevent the negative sentiment from affecting morale through powerful staff engagement programmes.
NHS Change day provides the perfect example of how the NHS is trying to engage staff internally. Change Day is not about appointing a hero to make a few changes and have their praises sung, it is about working from the bottom up, involving and inspiring every member of staff within the NHS to make a change in their behaviour or to improve organisational performance. Everyone is involved and everyone is given the chance to become a champion of change.
From our own experience of conducting staff engagement studies we know that staff want to understand how any changes benefit them. Engagement strategies are often perceived to be beneficial for senior management and in some cases to just create more work for the staff on the ground. With the bottom up approach of Change Day, the staff know that any changes that come about are by and for the staff and patients.
This is a particularly relevant approach in any large organisations, like the NHS, where change is harder to effect. We’ve found that staff relish the opportunity to contribute towards changes, rather than have change thrust upon them. They feel more connected to their organisation and less likely to want to leave.
Behavioural economics tells us that when people feel engaged with an organisation, when they feel they are listened to and empowered to make changes they become far more motivated to make improvements.
Clearly this means greater visible engagement at all levels. Leaders need to continually engage with staff to understand what changes they feel should be made to make their work experience more positive.
Our studies show that regular employee engagement discussions and consultations are key if employees are to feel involved and empowered. Surveys like this can not only distil the root causes of low morale. They can also identify other pressure points, such as workload, work-life balance and the impact of reforms on staff, as well as uncovering how staff think these issues could be addressed.
A fully engaged workforce will be a more positive and committed workforce, and it will be far more resilient to the outside negativity.