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The 4 things required from software when improving NHS staff experience

A few months back we attended an NHS Employers event in Leeds where the focus was on the national NHS Staff Survey. There we had the opportunity to speak with colleagues working in HR, OD, Workforce and People roles.

The talk of the town was very much the workforce challenges faced by each organisation, both in recruitment and retention. That challenge is one that has dominated most events we have attended in recent times – solving it, it would seem, is the number one priority in the NHS. As such, attention has turned to improving the staff experience. To do that, workforce leads are turning to digital solutions that can both measure the staff experience and provide guidance on where to begin improvement efforts.

With that in mind, we asked the audience gathered in Leeds, ‘What are the challenges that any digital solution needs to overcome’? Here’s a summary of what we heard, concluding with the four ‘must haves’ for staff experience software.

Access was one of the main barriers identified, and this manifested itself in different ways. Many attendees commented on the lack of access to computers on wards. When people did have access to a computer, they tended to be swamped with emails – which would suggest that invitations to participate via email would be a) hard to find and b) risk getting lost amongst other messaging. It was also noted that invitations to participate, to date, have been delivered via one or two methods (e.g. email, intranet etc.) whereas the workforce, given the choice, would prefer a wider range of delivery or access methods – the ones that suit them and their daily routines. Our attendees also pointed out that a large proportion of NHS staff are mobile, i.e. not based at one location or building but constantly on the move. As such, access to software can be difficult. Finally, we were told that there is still a wide variance in how comfortable staff are with software and technology in general. As such, access could be restricted by staff perceiving software as too complicated to use.

A willingness to persist with software was compromised by the second major issue identified by our attendees – a lack of time. Put simply, the majority of the NHS workforce do not have the time to complete lengthy staff experience exercises. Neither do they have the time to digest extensive reports relating to their and their colleagues’ input – especially when published a considerable time after they gave that input. A lack of time was also an issue for the administrators/moderators tasked with collecting, analysing and responding to staff experience feedback. For most, this will be one task of many that they have responsibility for and, as such, only a certain amount of time can be given over to it.

We were also told any software solution for staff experience would have to show results and quickly. Our attendees acknowledged that there is a certain amount of scepticism amongst staff when it comes to requests for their feedback or viewpoint. It was suggested this comes from a lack of results or ‘next steps’ – something to show what has happened with the feedback received. Staff have become used to providing input, only for that never to be heard of again. As such, a staff experience software solution would have to overcome this scepticism by proving its benefit.

So, with this in mind, these are the four things (we would argue) that are required for any digital staff experience solution to be effective:

  1. It needs to be accessible – the software should remove barriers by being accessible anytime, anywhere (online and mobile etc.). It should be something that everyone can use.
  2. It needs to be easy to use – to combat restrictions on time and patience, the user interface should make it simple to give feedback and see results. For administrators, feedback should be easy to respond to and analyse.
  3. The benefits need to be obvious – the system should promote transparency so staff can see what’s being done with their feedback and how it’s being responded to. The system should encourage a free-flow of conversation between respondent and administrator (rather than a feedback cycle that takes months to complete) and make it easy for both to engage in that conversation.
  4. It needs to be anonymous.

The fourth point on anonymity was one raised in Leeds by our partners from FHIntuition, Anne Frampton and Andrew Hollowood. From their experience at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, anonymous feedback is a crucial element as it “levels the field”. It takes away concerns about hierarchy and line management structures and enables staff to give honest, unfiltered responses. It is these type of responses that identify areas of improvement, and where real enhancement in the staff experience can be made.

The lesson from Leeds is that when looking to procure digital software to help improve your workforce experience, make sure the solution has considered (and can demonstrate that it meets) the challenges identified.