A glance at the blizzard of data around the nation’s health shows that these are challenging times. Daily COVID-19 positive tests and hospitalisations remain at a high level, despite the success of the vaccination programme. NHS waiting lists are at an all-time high. Adding in the expected winter surge in seasonal flu, overdue from a lull last year, and the net result is unprecedented pressure on healthcare services, which is only set to increase in the months ahead.

A healthy outlook?

The health service faces a number of additional challenges to overcoming these pressures, including colleague stress and sickness being on the rise, staff shortages, and an ongoing, major funding gap – despite the promise of a windfall from the government’s planned National Insurance levy. It’s easy to believe that from a health and social care perspective it’s likely to be a winter of discontent.

This sobering outlook is reflected in the views of NHS staff on their own workplace experience, as reported in the latest national NHS staff survey, where:

  • (only) 33% felt their organisation definitely takes positive action on health and wellbeing.
  • 44% reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the last year.
  • 46% said they had gone to work in the last three months despite not feeling well enough.

Similar sentiment emerged in a leaked People Pulse survey picked up by the HSJ, which reported that general anxiety levels in the NHS remained high, and were compounded by a general drop in confidence in leadership. Specifically:

  • A drop of nearly 10% in ‘perceptions of wellbeing support’ (with feelings of ‘positivity’ towards employers sitting at only 57%);
  • Almost a quarter of survey respondents reported a ‘negative’ experience of employer health and wellbeing support;
  • Almost a third felt unable to speak up on Covid-related issues of staff health and safety due to fear of repercussions or inaction; and
  • Thirty-five per cent of respondents described themselves as demotivated.

The organisational response

Against this background, what can healthcare (and other) organisations do to help ensure employees can stay healthy, motivated and productive in the workplace, while also helping to reduce pressure on local and national healthcare services? It starts with empowerment.

Research from The King’s Fund amongst NHS staff, shows that empowering and engaging colleagues not only increases their motivation and productivity (and the quality of care provided), but also delivers positive impacts to their own health and wellbeing, with lower rates of sickness absence observed among engaged and empowered staff.

The building blocks of empowerment

Here are ten key approaches organisations can take to empower employees, and better support their ambitions and sense of belonging and wellbeing:

  1. Create a shared vision for the organisation’s future: employees need to feel part of something bigger.
  2. Have unified and aligned goals and objectives: truly empowered employees have the autonomy to create their own objectives, with the support and guidance of their manager.
  3. Encourage self-improvement: boost employees’ confidence by allowing them to explore new avenues and set specific personal development objectives.
  4. Generate a sense of trust, confidence and security: give employees autonomy in their roles, and the freedom to make errors and learn from them.
  5. Be transparent in all areas: instigate an open-door policy; make your strategy and values clear, and provide a mechanism for employees to have their questions answered.
  6. Be willing to delegate: employees can only become more empowered when they’re trusted to take on more work and responsibility.
  7. Give frequent feedback: to create an empowering feedback culture, managers and employees should have regular feedback discussions.
  8. Learn from problems: when something goes awry, or an employee isn’t performing as expected, it’s important to look at what can be learned or improved.
  9. Cultivate an honest exchange of ideas: in a healthy organisation, feedback goes both ways, so it should be solicited from employees on how processes can be improved, and on how their manager can better support them.
  10. Recognise and reward: recognition is hugely important for ongoing empowerment and mental wellbeing – a little bit of praise goes a long way.

Universal benefit

Ultimately, an empowered, trusted and autonomous workforce is more collaborative, productive and innovative.

It is also healthier in body and mind, which delivers wellbeing benefits for the individual employee, and provides a positive impact to the provision of health and social care to wider society.

If you’d like to talk to us about employee empowerment, workplace wellbeing or the wider public health debate, please contact: Amy.Burgess@corporateculture.co.uk