A major publication released today by the IPA argues that effective employee engagement is key to meeting the challenges the NHS faces.

Evidence shows that employee engagement in the NHS is linked to staff wellbeing, patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes such as mortality. Put simply, engaged staff deliver better, safer care. Engagement in the NHS has increased over the last two years but there remains significant scope for improvement.

The NHS is facing an ‘unprecedented squeeze;’ demand is growing and costs are rising whilst budgets are frozen. At the same time, following the Francis Report into the disaster at Mid Staffordshire, the NHS is being expected to deliver ever safer and higher quality care.

The report ‘Meeting the Challenge: Successful Employee Engagement in the NHS – produced for Healthcare People Managers Association and NHS Employers – is based on case studies of employee engagement at eight high performing NHS Trusts. It shows that only through effectively engaging with employees will the NHS be able to meet the challenges it faces in coming years. It calls on NHS Trusts to:

  • Make engaging with employees a strategic priority;
  • Ensure senior leaders are visible, approachable and in-touch with the frontline;
  • Support a strong sense of employee voice so that staff can speak up when they have a concern, provide suggestions for improvement and guide organisational decision-making;
  • Promote strong organisational values, that are clearly communicated and reflected in actions;
  • Help line managers to engage their teams, offering them the support and training to do so;
  • Devolve decision-making and responsibility as close to the frontline as possible, within safe limits, so employees are empowered to take control of their job and their services;
  • Work in partnership with trade unions to build a relationship based on trust and involvement.

These are hard times for NHS workers. Ongoing pay restraint, increasing work intensity and organisational change risk undermining engagement. Yet, in order to meet the challenges the NHS is facing, engaging with the workforce is more important than ever. Engaging with employees can unlock their potential for innovation, allowing them to make services more effective and efficient. And involving staff in decision-making is vital during these times of change in the NHS.

Employee engagement must be seen as a key priority for the NHS. Leaders need to respond to this imperative and rise to the challenge.

Nita Clarke OBE, Director of the IPA and co-chair of the Engage for Success task force said: “Employee engagement is absolutely vital in the NHS. This ground-breaking report highlights some excellent best practice in the sector and could provide the blueprint for driving up engagement across the NHS.”

Sir David Dalton, Chief Executive at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, the top performing acute trust nationally in terms of employee engagement and one of our case studies said: “This report gets to the heart of the issues of why effective employee engagement is crucial for Boards to assure high quality, safe and reliable care. The case studies demonstrate that decisions and behaviours rooted in agreed values, authentic leadership, and devolved decision making are key ingredients to sustain the culture for successful delivery of high standards to patients.”

Kevin Croft, President of the Healthcare People Managers Association and Director of OD and People at Epsom and St Helier Universities Hospitals NHS Trust said: “The case for staff engagement is compelling and in the NHS this means improved patient outcomes. The challenge is not knowing what needs to be done, but how you make it happen. We are thrilled to now have this case study research highlighting how some of the best performing NHS organisations have achieved success through staff engagement.”

Dean Royles Chief Executive of NHS Employers said: “This report provides invaluable insight into how successful NHS organisations have sustained staff engagement in tough times. It highlights how these organisations have changed the way they listen to, learn from and work with their staff. There are no easy answers but shows there are some straightforward steps can be taken to help staff improve services.”