Staff engagement remains a hot trend in the private sector, but is its reach yet to fully extend to public-sector organisations such as the NHS?

The National Health Service is one of the UK’s most renowned public services and its model is held up as an exemplar of public health provision across the world. However, evidence shows that there is still plenty of scope available to develop the organisation further using modern business principles. Experts also believe that without these modern business models the NHS will struggle to evolve. Will engagement models hold the key to this historic organisation’s future?

The Value of Staff Engagement to the NHS

Staff engagement is a driving principle of modern business and industry. It involves developing, rewarding, communicating to and empowering staff to bring about measurable gains. This people-based strategy is adopted by organisations large and small to develop employee wellbeing, retention, motivation and performance. In the case of the NHS, it is intrinsically linked to associated benefits and measurable things such as patient care and satisfaction as well as clinical outcomes such as treatment rates and mortality. Ultimately, and in the case of the NHS specifically, an employee engagement strategy which is effectively planned, integrated and communicated can work to deliver safer patient care of higher quality. So how well is the UK-wide organisation doing at integrating such approaches?

The NHS has devoted resources and effort towards developing an engagement strategy over the past 24 months, but there remains real scope for further advancement and improvement. Internal employee satisfaction survey and focus group approaches are allowing current progress to be measured and assessed for improvements, and further opportunities certainly remain.

The Drivers of Engagement

Staff engagement isn’t simply a nice-to-have or a driver of performance. There are cost implications too. The NHS faces significant pressures to reduce its costs, and demand is rapidly growing for its services. Budgets are frozen whilst costs increase, requiring managers to find more effective and efficient ways of working to squeeze more value from resources and assets. A second driver is care quality and safety, following the Francis Report concerning the Mid Staffs scandal last year.

Useful Background Research and Reading

A report by the IPA has been produced for NHS employers and the association of Healthcare People Managers. It looks at interventions and approaches that deliver high engagement and offers specific recommendations at a Trust level. Equally, another useful resource is the recent survey by Aon Hewitt which shows current engagement levels and the benefits of increasing these.

The NHS faces significant challenges for its staff, including pay freezes, increased productivity requirements and significant organisational changes and associated risk management. Managers will need to look at the employee lifecycle to improve retention and attraction of key talent and the highest performers, whilst establishing the employee value proposition to bring in top performers, particularly from the private sector. To achieve this full set of improved performance and delivery objectives, staff will need to be fully engaged and supported to unlock innovative approaches and to drive forward more efficient services. Ultimately, this means that the right staff engagement strategy is not simply an optional extra. It is potentially a fundamental delivery platform that will allow the NHS to succeed in its future challenges.