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The UK's National Health Services needs to rethink the ‘sticking plaster’ solution of training replacement staff, writes James Brook.
The NHS has been widely criticized for being inefficient, cultivating an over-stretched and under-motivated workforce, and struggling to retain talented staff. Recent figures from the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) show that more than 80% of senior hospital doctors are considering retiring early. The main cause is work-related stress, which can result in sleepless nights, anxiety, illness, marital breakups, and even strokes.
Meanwhile, the NHS is ploughing an increasing percentage of its budget into training new staff – with £5 billion being spent in the East and West Midlands alone. But new staff will be entering the same stressful work environment that is prompting existing staff to leave. Without drastic changes to workplace culture, the service is likely to see history repeat itself when new trainees become established members of the team.
So what changes can the NHS make to create a positive workforce, increase productivity, boost team morale, and ultimately improve staff retention rates?
Allow employees to express themselves
The nature of the NHS means many employees are naturally helpful and caring individuals. However, long hours and high workloads can lead even the most proactive employee to loose faith in their worth, negatively impacting motivation. Those who feel they are able to express their ideas, opinions and values are more likely to go the extra mile.
By allowing employees to fully express themselves – through the identification of their natural strengths, the introduction of strengths and awareness exercises, and by encouraging flexible working practices – the NHS can help employees reach their full potential, boosting morale and encouraging them to remain within the organisation.
Show employees appreciation
The vast majority of NHS staff feel under-appreciated by the government and NHS management, who are quick to point out problems, but rarely recognise the positives. It is important for NHS employees to feel appreciated by their management and co-workers for them to engage fully with their work.
Leaders need to be trained to spot employee’s successes as they happen, and praise individuals on their achievements at the time, rather than after the event. This will encourage staff to maintain high performance standards, keeping up positive momentum. The creation of low cost recognition schemes, such as hand-written thank you notes, will empower the NHS to boost staff appreciation on a budget.
Allow employees to make meaningful contributions
By allowing employees to make meaningful contributions to the workplace, the NHS can ensure they are committed to meet the goals and vision of the organisation. Staff members must have a clear idea of what is expected of them and how to achieve it.
Managers can improve staff motivation and build stronger team bonds by inviting employees to contribute to the community. Challenging employees with ‘stretch assignments’ agreed in collaboration with them will help to develop strengths and contribute to shared goals. When employees feel valued by their management and peers, staff will be more engaged in the success of their department and the organisation as a whole.
Feedback on employees’ performance
It is important employees receive regular, constructive feedback from valued co-workers, as well as key stakeholders and managers. This not only helps to develop key skills and teamwork, but also commitment and engagement within the team.
The NHS needs to employ a simple 360/multi-rater feedback process (either questionnaire or interview-based) that provides employees with regular feedback tailored specifically to the individual. The introduction of Peer Coaching Circles in which co-workers learn from each other and provide feedback will help teams work together productively and efficiently through identifying and taking ownership of solutions that will improve patient care, morale and results. Partnering employees with complementary strengths will ensure staff members feel supported, while minimising the risks that weaknesses can cause.
Create a sense of connection and social support
In high-pressure environments such as GP surgeries and hospitals, it is vital employees have access to strong support systems. Not only must networks provide practical and psychological support, they must also promote growth and friendship.
It is important employees have access to dedicated spaces for informal catch-ups and social activity, and are provided with opportunities to socialise outside of work hours. By bringing employees together in a relaxed environment, the NHS will improve team morale and provide vital support to employees working in highly stressful situations.
The NHS is a hugely important part of British society, providing vital support to those in need across the nation. It is imperative the NHS offers the same support to its employees to run a positive and productive workplace which empowers staff to provide the highest possible level of care. The NHS needs to rethink the ‘sticking plaster’ solution of training replacement staff and focus their training budget on teaching existing employees to identify and work to their strengths. By creating a positive and productive workplace in which talented staff enjoy their work, the NHS can thrive.
James Brook is Co-Founder and Joint Managing Director, Strengths Partnership.