Disengagement is widespread among health service staff, but there are steps managers can take to improve the situation

The Healthcare Commission's latest staff survey has once again highlighted the need to overcome the widespread disengagement among frontline staff in the health service.

To address this, Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals trust is adopting a new approach to engaging with staff called Listening into Action.

Around 50 trusts across the country were involved in developing the approach through pilot programmes last year. The aim of the programme is to reconnect with staff and mobilise them to implement changes that are good for patients, staff and organisational performance.

Seismic shift

The trust is using the initiative to fundamentally change the way it works by putting staff at the centre of change. It aims to turn feedback from staff into positive action.

By the end of April, the trust had held five "staff conversations" and obtained the opinions of around 350 members of staff. The events were hosted by trust chief executive John Adler.

The invitation process drew unprecedented attendance levels. Turnout rates were between 83 and 106 per cent (more people came on one day than had been invited).

At the beginning of this month, a number of priority projects will begin to address the issues raised by staff at the meetings. These projects will seek to encourage people to work together across organisational boundaries and to take ownership of the changes. The role of management will be to support the frontline-led projects.

Talking to each other

For the initial conversations, staff were selected at random from across the trust, from cleaners to consultants. Each received a personal letter of invitation from the chief executive.

Organising the meetings was a huge logistical exercise in itself as the trust is split across three sites and all the work was done in less than a month.

The feedback from the first three conversations was positive, with 98 per cent rating the sessions "good" to "excellent". Some of the comments on how the events have made people feel included:

  • Involved, hopeful for the future.
  • Empowered. Today was a very positive opportunity to express how I feel and hear how others feel also. I feel I matter and it makes a difference.
  • I feel like part of team that will bring change.
  • Filled with hope for a sound and productive working relationship with management.

The creators of the Listening into Action approach, Optimise, are working as an integral part of the team at the trust to support adoption and help make it a sustainable part of the organisation.