Beyond the NHS Staff Survey: Why it's not the best starting point for practice team wellbeing engagement
In the realm of healthcare staff engagement, the NHS staff survey has become a widely used tool to assess employee wellbeing and generate standardised data for public consumption. However, it's important to recognise that the survey's primary purpose is to produce results for comparison, rather than fostering team cohesion and development.
When seeking to maximise the gains and outcomes for your practice through staff engagement, it is crucial to consider how you start the conversation with your team. Framing it as part of a standardised process will signal to your team that this is being done to tick a box. It can feel insincere and will likely result in poor engagement both in terms of response rates and superficial answers.
In this article, we explore the pitfalls of surveys and suggest an alternative approach that combines regular team huddles with frequent pulsed surveys, thus collecting the same data while offering a more comprehensive and sustainable way to support your team.
The Pitfalls of Standard Surveys:
Staff wellbeing is a hot topic across the NHS and especially in General Practice this year. The addition of staff wellbeing QI indicator to the 2023-24 QOF has taken the subject of staff wellbeing from a nice to have, to a target to be met. Using an off the shelf survey such as then NHS staff survey can feel like a quick, safe option to start the process of engagement, but they should be used with caution.
Here are a few reasons why relying solely on them may actually harm engagement:
- Impersonal and Detached: Standard surveys often consist of generic questions that fail to capture the nuances of your practice environment. They can leave staff feeling disconnected and their concerns overlooked.
- Limited Scope: These surveys typically focus on predefined topics, missing out on specific issues or challenges unique to your team. This limited scope can hinder understanding and hinder the identification of targeted solutions.
- Data Over Support: While standard surveys excel at collecting data, they may fall short in providing the practical support and solutions that staff need to address their concerns. Staff may feel like their feedback disappears into a void without any meaningful action.
- Designed for comparison, not customisation: It's important to remember that standard surveys, including the NHS staff survey, are designed to generate data for comparison and benchmarking purposes. They may not align perfectly with the specific needs and goals of your practice or team. Consider if your needs align perfectly with the DOH and NHSE, it is likely that their needs are very different from those of your practice and PCN.
- Inherently Biased: Surveys are often designed from the perspective of those creating them, focusing on what they want to measure and achieve. This can result in a mismatch between the survey questions and the actual concerns and experiences of your staff. The tone and language of the survey may not resonate with the daily realities of your practice.
- Duplication: Staff will be asked to fill out the staff survey as well. The General Practice staff survey is under development, due in Autumn 2023 and directing staff to it is a target in the QOF guidelines. Do you want them to have to do the same work twice – consider how this might impact their answers and how you score on the actual survey.
An alternative approach: Continuous feedback through team huddles:
Instead of relying solely on standardised surveys, consider incorporating a more personalised approach to staff engagement. By combining huddles with micro surveys, you can unlock a range of benefits:
- Deep Understanding: Conducting regular huddles allows you to connect with your staff on a personal level, gaining a deeper understanding of their experiences, challenges, and aspirations. These face-to-face interactions foster open communication and create a culture of trust.
- Meaningful Connections: Engaging in huddles demonstrates that you genuinely care about your staff's well-being and development. It builds trust, strengthens relationships, and helps create a supportive work environment where everyone feels valued and heard.
- Actionable Outcomes: During huddles, encourage staff to share their concerns and ideas for improvement. This personalised approach enables you to address issues directly and collaboratively develop actionable solutions. It shows that their voices matter and that positive change is possible.
- Focused Surveys for Insights: Supplement your huddles with focused surveys that capture specific areas of interest or concern. These surveys provide an additional layer of data and insights, complementing the rich information gathered from huddles. By combining qualitative and quantitative data, you can make informed decisions and track progress over time.
Staff engagement is more than just collecting data—it's about fostering meaningful connections, addressing concerns, and supporting your team's well-being. By moving beyond standard surveys and embracing a personalised approach that combines huddles and focused surveys, you can create an environment where staff feel valued, supported, and empowered to thrive.