Blog | Treating Staff As Assets To The NHS

Published August 02, 2016 by Marcus Evans

Treating Staff As Assets To The NHS

As in many businesses, staff are the biggest cost for NHS Trusts. Therefore, at a time of financial pressure there is a major focus on staffing levels and ensuring that budgets are being spent wisely. CEOs are on the horns of a dilemma, perennially attempting to balance quality and finance. Indeed, NHS Improvement chief executive Jim Mackey recently claimed that 30-40 NHS trusts were actually overstaffed with nurses. Many nursing experts have gone on record disagreeing with this view, pointing to long term shortages and the need to meet safe staffing ratios as set out in the Francis report. 

However, what is needed is to take a different view of employees, and treat them as an asset, rather than simply an overhead. This means looking at ways of better employee engagement, across their careers and listening more closely to their feedback. This can deliver benefits in four key areas:

1. Increased retention

PwC estimates that the cost of replacing a member of staff equates to one year of their salary. This is based on the expense of recruiting and training a replacement and the lost productivity while a vacancy is being filled. Adding to this cost within the NHS many roles are temporarily filled with agency staff, pushing up expenses even more. Therefore, increasing retention is central to becoming more efficient, and this starts with listening to existing staff and acting on their feedback. Engaged employees are likely to remain longer, and, according to the King’s Fund less likely to suffer from stress or high absenteeism rates.

2. Improved patient care

Motivated, engaged staff have a direct impact on better patient care. Not only are they likely to remain longer in post, helping with continuity of care, but their experience and attention is appreciated by patients themselves. Staff that are engaged contribute ideas, are open to learning and development and feel more committed to the Trust that they are part of. Listening to employees is the first step to making sure that staff feel valued, and therefore become engaged.

3. Attract new talent

In an increasingly competitive market for skills, NHS organisations need to build a reputation as an employer of choice. This helps attract new talent, and ensures that roles are filled quickly and effectively, reducing agency costs and ensuring that the highest standards of care are always delivered. New staff bring new ideas, new ways of working and can therefore help organisations develop at both a practical and a strategic level, saving money in the long term. A strong employer brand is also important to keeping staff after they pass normal retirement age and to becoming the employer of choice for flexible bank staff.

4. Boost efficiency

NHS staff are best placed to spot opportunities to increase efficiency within their day to day roles. Engaged employees provide feedback that can be used to improve specific areas and processes, saving money while enhancing patient care. Listening to all staff, and bringing together cross-functional teams to improve how work is carried out is proven to both increase engagement and create a better organisational culture. Encouraging the sharing of ideas, such as through online communities, can also lead to major innovations that benefit the Trust concerned and can then be replicated across the NHS.

Taking a new, listening approach to workforce management also has the potential to transform healthcare HR. As in the private sector, if HR professionals are able to show that they can contribute to meeting the big, strategic goals of NHS trusts, they can elevate their status and become central to the organisation moving forward. Driving positive workforce changes that reduce costs will cement their position as key decision makers at a time when the NHS is evolving rapidly.

During the current debate on staffing levels one key point is clear – the central importance of employees to the delivery of high quality, efficient and cost-effective patient care. Using annual surveys and quarterly pulse exercises provides one way of listening, but building on these with more immediate, continuous feedback and journey mapping gives a much deeper insight into what staff are saying and feeling. Focusing on really listening to staff, engaging with them and using their feedback, knowledge and skills is therefore the best way to meet the challenges the NHS faces, now and in the future.

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