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Joanna Goodrich: 'Focus on supporting staff when looking at how to improve care'

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Nursing directors should take steps to boost staff engagement, says Joanna Goodrich

Given the current political and economic pressures on nurses to deliver top-quality care with fewer resources, the Point of Care Foundation maintains that staff engagement is as important as ever.

Our recently published report, Staff Care: How to Engage Staff in the NHS and Why it Matters, makes the case that staff engagement is inextricably linked to the quality of patient care.

There is evidence to show that when staff feel supported in their work, they are likely to deliver better care to patients. There are financial, as well as moral and productivity drivers, for improving staff engagement.

‘Make supporting staff a central driver of strategies to improve patient care, productivity and financial performance’

The report outlines steps nursing directors, managers and senior leaders can take to improve staff engagement. Each organisation will determine what works best for them. Transforming cultures does not happen overnight. It’s a long-haul process and the report has a number of case studies for inspiration. Below I outline five of the steps. It is not a prescriptive check
list, although one thing we have learnt is that big, one-off engagement events rarely work:

1. Influence your organisation’s strategic approach to staff engagement. While it is good to have individual teams, which are engaged and positive, the benefits will be piecemeal if engagement is not organisation-wide. Try to influence others to make supporting staff a central driver of strategies to improve patient care, productivity and financial performance.

2. Articulate the values of your organisation and show how they translate into behaviour. Senior leaders need to work with staff to agree organisational values and then communicate them in plain English, showing how they translate into behaviours. Where there is a disconnect between stated values and actual behaviours on the part of managers and senior leaders, it engenders cynicism and impacts negatively on staff engagement.

3. Listen to staff and free them up to find solutions. The Foundation Trust Network found that nearly half (46%) of trusts rely solely on the annual staff survey to formally canvas staff opinions. That is not enough. It is useful to have a variety of methods you can use to gauge how staff are feeling on a regular basis. Focus groups, listening events, informal conversations and briefings from the union representative all offer insight. Resist the temptation to offer solutions every time concerns are raised. Let staff identify problems and develop solutions, and they will feel more engaged with the organisation.

4. Ensure line managers are properly trained. Many managers, especially from clinical backgrounds, often have no training in people management. Training is important for getting well-structured appraisal and objective-setting systems in place, and to give managers the confidence to foster open and honest conversations about values and behaviours.

5. Create space for reflection and support. Caring for patients is very hard work and can raise difficult emotional and social issues that do not necessarily have “solutions”. There are a variety of approaches available to help staff feel well supported. Schwartz rounds, which are monthly one-hour meetings where staff come together to talk about the challenges of caring for patients, are a simple but powerful tool. Participants report feeling less isolated and being better able to deliver compassionate care, as well as being more connected to their original motivations to care for patients.

If you want staff to be engaged with your organisation, you need to be engaged with them.

Joanna Goodrich is research and development manager at the Point of Care Foundation

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Readers' comments (1)

  • If management actually worked with rather than against their staff, the NHS would function so much better.

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