Health Professions April 30, 2019
To address workforce challenges, communicate

By Katrina Percy - Accountable Care Journal

Katrina Percy, CEO at Ryalto, seeks a solution to motivation, leadership and communication challenges faced by the NHS. The solution is digital.

For seven decades, the NHS has navigated innumerable challenges, national crises and technological transformations, to consistently deliver everything it stands for – steady, high-quality, compassionate healthcare for all. Today, the service faces pressures like never before. At a time when we can’t open a newspaper or social media feed without reading a story about the herculean tasks facing the NHS, its workforce challenges emerge among the most critical-to-address.

The service is dealing with a host of these workforce-related pressures – shortage of staff, an exodus of existing staff, and employees who are stretched, stressed, overworked. More people are leaving than joining the workforce today.

A disengaged workforce 

A recent report by the King’s Find found that should current trends prevail; the NHS will have a shortfall of 108,000 full-time equivalent nurses. That is a worrying number, and one that requires immediate attention.

While there are several ways to address the shortage of staff, including rapidly increasing hiring, encouraging and funding education and training, and offering incentives to become part of the healthcare service, one of the most important issues contributing to this mountain is staff morale.

Staff report feeling bullied, undervalued, and unsupported. They talk about feeling powerless to make decisions in their respective roles, feel like they are wasting precious time doing admin work and feel disconnected from their organisations. It has been supported by multiple streams of evidence that a disengaged employee results directly in poor patient care. When the person providing the care isn’t feeling cared for, nurtured, involved and appreciated, that is the sentiment passed on to people they interact with. The result of that? Overall depreciation in quality of care.

Refocusing leadership

All too often, leaders working with the goal of delivering improvement within and across their organisations find themselves focussing all efforts on numbers, governance, press and processes. Little time is invested in team dynamics, talent nurturing, supporting health and well-being of staff.

Hiring the right people in the right quantity is undoubtedly essential, but individuals working cohesively in partnership with one another is what will deliver results. Senior leadership is often faced with staff who are risk-averse and chugging along with a feeling of learned helplessness - a state of apathy and unwillingness to try anything new, for fear of it not taking shape.

Strategy and vision

While leadership across organisations contributes towards streamlined and clear strategy, it seldom translates to a vision that the entire organisation can get behind. It is vision that offers goals to staff, it gives them purpose, it creates an ambition to work towards.

Having a clear organisational strategy that complements a vision works phenomenally when it is connected to an understanding of what behaviours are needed to deliver it. When leadership finds a way to communicate effectively and drive a clear vision across the breadth of its organisation, staff will begin to back that up through productivity gains. By creating an environment of leading-from-the-front by exhibiting those behaviours themselves, leadership will tie all staff into working towards the same results.

Culture over strategy

Culture trumps strategy, every time. There is clear evidence to support the correlation between culture and patient care. Strategy is required to define the direction the organisation and its people should move towards, and culture defines how that is received, absorbed, and acted upon.

Healthcare staff want to provide excellent and compassionate patient care and leadership needs to provide a nurturing environment in order for them to shine. If staff are to overcome learned helplessness morale deficiency, they must be empowered to have opinions and the ability to safely express them.

A positive culture can be developed by investing time in bespoke leadership programmes and taking time outside of the workplace where staff can truly begin to bond. It will come from investing in activities that are fun, engaging, immersive and cater to staff health and well-being needs, placing a focus on building strengths as opposed to trying to fix weaknesses.

The importance of communication cannot be stressed enough. Getting to where the staff already are means quicker and easier reach – straight to their phones. Using an organisation-wide communications app empowers comms teams to rapidly communicate, recognise achievements and offer rewards. It generates a sense of being appreciated and being in control which will drive positive culture. That is what we have worked towards achieving with the Ryalto app.

In the end, our healthcare workforce is constructed of compassionate, intelligent people, caring for other people. When they are in a better place, organisations have better retention, save money, reduce mortality, and significantly improve patient outcomes.

Katrina Percy is the CEO at Ryalto, an app that helps healthcare staff manage their working lives. It offers tools such as shift booking, mobile-friendly comms channels, feedback mechanisms, and chat features. Find out more here.

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