New insight into the views of NHS staff reveals how improving staff engagement can have a positive impact on a trusts clinical and financial performance, as University Hospital South Manchester’s director of communications and engagement Susan Osborne explains.

Emerging evidence from research underway at Aston Business School demonstrates how engaging with staff can save money through improved financial efficiency, as well as generating a better environment for staff and patients.

The links between staff engagement and patient experience in healthcare are widely known. However new evidence is emerging to reveal there is a whole lot more to staff engagement. Researchers found that where high staff engagement scores were seen in trusts, not only are patients more satisfied, but CQC ratings on quality of financial management are higher, staff have better health and well being and trusts have lower absenteeism (see figures 1 to 3).

Initial analysis of the data reveals that large financial savings can be made through reduced sickness absence alone, with less salary costs, less spend on bank and agency staff and patients getting better quicker due to a greater continuity of care.

Furthermore, increasing staff engagement can lead to additional financial savings because where patients are more satisfied they are more likely to have a shorter stay in hospital, freeing up resources. Also where CQC ratings for quality of financial management are high, trusts are more efficient in using resources, meaning patients get better care for less spend.

Full findings from the research project are due to be published later this year but these initial findings are good news for those trusts already working hard to create high levels of staff engagement and provide further incentive for trusts to take action.

In today’s tough financial climate, some may question the value of investing time and money in staff engagement. But they must also ask themselves: what is the price of not doing it? There are many trusts that have shown you can make a positive change with little or no investment or that despite the costs the changes are essential to the overall health of the organisation.

Listening to the views of staff is more important than ever. Staff have an invaluable perspective on what is happening within their organisation and their views of how their service is operating provide an important perspective to inform service delivery.

Someone who knows this well is chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing Dr Peter Carter: “Engaging with frontline staff, especially in today’s climate, is fundamental to the effective and efficient running of any healthcare service. We know that where trusts listen and engage with their staff, they consistently reap the benefits in terms of patient outcomes and experience.”

Karen Jennings, head of health at unison and staff side chair of the Social Partnership Forum adds: “We are going into challenging times involving substantial cuts, but there have already been examples of how staff engagement can help. In Blackpool there were serious cuts a couple of years ago and the way they carried them out was a casebook of best practice. The management and trade union sides came together and looked at the debt and chose together how they were going to tackle it”.

South Essex Partnership University Foundation Trust chief executive Patrick Geoghegan knows first hand the importance of listening to staff views.

As NHS Leader of the Year in 2009 and the winner of several Healthcare 100 awards last year, Mr Geoghegan speaks from experience. “If I can’t get the staff on my side I am going nowhere as a leader. The success of my organisation depends on the front-line staff.

“We make them feel valued and that is what drives the changes that happen in my trust. My whole philosophy is bottom up. Ask the front-line staff to solve a problem and they will always come up with a solution. Staff engagement is not about spending money. It is about attitudes and the value base of managers…some of the basic changes that led to our success did not require money.”

More and more trusts are demonstrating how improving staff engagement has generated benefits within their organisation. These trusts are leading the way and showing how a small change can make a big difference.

Case study: How engaging staff can lead to savings

During 2009/10, University Hospital of South Manchester developed an approach known as the South Manchester Way in light of financial issues and concern over its levels of staff engagement.

The trust used a variety of methods to engage with team members about the challenges they face and out of these discussions developed a set of five principles.

Changing the culture of any organisation takes time, but having the South Manchester Way has helped the trust to tackle challenges and allows leaders to be clear about the expectations they can have of their teams, and team members to be clear about the expectations they can have of their leaders. 

The effort made to create a more open and effective management style and involve all staff is already seeing results.

Since the introduction of the South Manchester Way in January 2010, the trust has seen improvements including: 

  • a significant restructure of clinical divisions (5 to 3) and the introduction of clinical leadership
  • a reduction in management costs of £2m in 2010-11
  • CIP on target to deliver 77 per cent higher savings in 2010-11 than in 2009-10
  • reduction in sickness absence
  • less use of private sector and agency staff
  • increases in theatre productivity and day case rates.

For further information on this project


Find out more

For guidance and further information on the benefits of staff engagement, visit the Staff Experience pages of the DH website.

Or you can contact the Staff Experience team directly.

Browse NHS Employers’ large set of case studies on the benefits of improving staff engagement within your organisation.