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Staff Retention in the Public Sector

3rd Dec 2018
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Staff retention is currently a hot topic across all talent management sectors. However, rarely is the issue as pertinent as it is in the NHS. With 33,000 nurses leaving last year, reports have gone as far as to say the NHS is ‘haemorrhaging’ staff, and experts have called it a ‘national emergency’. The number of staff leaving roles amounts to one in ten nurses each year. Coupled with a huge decline in EU nurses registering for work in the UK, dropping 96% since Brexit,  there are now actually more leavers than joiners in the NHS.

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This staffing crisis has lead the NHS to become more and more dependent upon agency workers, costing Trusts vast sums of money, far more than if they could retain their own staff. Vacancies cost the NHS an eye-watering £600m on agency workers in April, May and June of this year.  In fact, the situation has been so bad that in some cases temporary doctors were charging up to £10,000 a shift. Over-reliance on agencies causes suffering across the board, impacting both continuity of care and staffing spend. This in turn creates a chaotic workplace that is less attractive for permanent staff, making them more likely to leave and further worsen the situation.

So, it’s clear the NHS need to improve retention. But how can it do it? Despite claims from the NHS that it has made large strides against a ‘challenging’ background, as of June there was a shortage of nearly 108,000 workers. In the short term, strategic workforce management, prevalent in many other industries, can help the NHS utilise current workforces more effectively, just as are we doing at Healthier. By allowing strategists in on day to day operations, areas which need immediate attention can be identified. However, it is essential that talent is pipelined effectively in the future to allow the NHS to meet coming challenges. In addition to this, there are numerous paths of action to boost retention.

One of these is flexible working. The overly demanding, rigid schedules of NHS workers are part of the reason so many leave or join agencies. If Trusts can enable flexible working, they will find it far easier to retain staff. Steps towards this have been taken, with NHS Trusts in London implementing collaborative banks of nurses. Technological advances should help make the implementation of flexible working a manageable task, and one in which the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Offering training and development to workers can also help, with one survey suggesting 70% of workers are influenced to stay in their role due to job-related training and development. Extra opportunities to grow not only help employees become more positively inclined towards employers, but also allow the organisations to improve by upskilling their existing workforce.

Furthermore, increased attention to employee’s mental health is needed. Although the Chancellor has just committed extra funds for NHS mental health services, this is not reflecting back upon those who run them. A recent Mind survey found nearly 90% of NHS primary care workers were stressed, and more than 20% had developed serious mental health problems as a result. The conclusion was ‘damning’, stating that ‘the NHS isn’t prioritising the mental health of its staff.’  With almost one in three people being struck by mental health problems whilst in employment and 13% of all sick days taken in the UK due to mental health conditions, Trusts would clearly benefit from more accessible mental health support. Not only would this improve wellbeing and therefore retention, it makes business sense. Analysts at Deloitte identified a potential return of between business £1.50 and £9 for every £1 invested into wellness practices such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

A strong employee brand can also improve retention. Research has shown 63% of employees admit that a trusted employer brand positively impacts job enjoyment. However, this is often overlooked, with only 30% of large companies using employer brand for retention, ‘even though retention is a top priority for talent professionals’. Employee brand can be improved in a multitude of ways, even by implementing other methods of increasing retention. For instance, an organisation that looks to offer extra training to employees and care for the wellbeing of its staff will garner a positive reputation with existing employees and prospective workers.

Ultimately, while it is easy to lament the current situation, there are positive signs. The recent NHS ‘improving staff retention’ report touches on a number of topics that I’ve discussed, such as ‘effective staff engagement’ , ‘finding ways to acknowledge and reward values-driven behaviours’, ‘supporting staff health and wellbeing’ and ‘offering a range of flexible working options for all staff’. These will undoubtedly improve the situation if implemented correctly, and it is fantastic to see them on the NHS’s radar. However, to see lasting change, efforts must be stepped up and it is vital all Trusts begin strategically managing workforces, for themselves, their workers, and patients, which we will all be one day.

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