NHS England: reaching 1.3m workers with the wellbeing message

stressed NHS worker

Imagine having a remit to create wellbeing programmes for 1.3 million members of staff. And imagine that these members of staff are some of the most busy professionals in the job market, whose roles frequently involve making life or death decisions. That’s exactly the position that Claire Parker, Senior Programme Lead, Health and Wellbeing Team, NHS England, is in.

She has a national remit which includes bodies of the NHS, like NHS England Health Education, as well as all the staff that work in hospitals trusts and primary care. It’s huge.

Clearly, communication is an enormous challenge when operating at this national level, which makes the NHS’s network of Health and Wellbeing Champions so crucial to the success of wellbeing programmes.

We spoke to Parker for her insights on this challenge, particularly her success around line manager training, which received our Make A Difference Judge’s Award in April for this category.

How big is your network?

Our Health and Wellbeing Champions network is over 3,000 colleagues who cover all different parts of the NHS, in a range of roles, grades and different locations. 

The idea is that Health and Wellbeing Champions are people already employed by the NHS, who are passionate about health and wellbeing and want to support their colleagues at work. They’re a great resource for us to work with because we, in the national team at NHS England, can share things with them, and they can then pass this information on at a more local level.

The theme of MAD World 2023 is collaboration. What advice do you have on collaborating at such a huge level?

It’s definitely about stakeholder engagement skills. You’ve got to build relationships with people, talk to them, understand what they want to get from something, and then how you can work together and support one another to deliver towards the same goal.

 To build relationships with our Health and Wellbeing Champions, for example, we do monthly development sessions where we support them to learn and develop in their role. We have regular meetings with colleagues who work in the regions to understand what feedback they are hearing from their Champions, so that we can use this intel to help us shape how we support them.  

To what extent can you build a relationship online versus actually being in person?

Predominantly, over the last few years since the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve been working virtually and have had to use a whole range of communication techniques to successfully develop our Health and Wellbeing Champions network and support them in their role.

What’s really important is that one size does not fit all.  Ask colleagues how they prefer to be communicated with, and see what ideas they have for different methods.  We try to use lots of different communication channels, including social media, emails, articles, bulletins, as well as attending meetings and talking to colleagues.  More recently, we have started attending more face to face events which has been lovely.

We often hear that colleagues don’t have time to read emails or bulletins, but what they would like is for us to come to meet them and talk for five minutes in a meeting – so where possible we try to accommodate this.

To what extent have you found social media to be helpful, because that can be a blessing and a curse?

We use it cautiously, especially because we are a national organisation. There are definitely some positives to social media – we have predominantly used it to share staff experiences and stories and promote the resources available. It can also be a good way of connecting with people that you wouldn’t necessarily connect with in other mediums.

What stuck out on your award entry was your emphasis on using data and evidence to then create proactive rather than reactive strategies. Can you tell me a bit about that?

Our programme has been developed with a focus on evaluation and data – we want to ensure we are evidence based and are measuring the value of what we do.  One of our programmes, a training programme on holding safe and effective wellbeing conversations, has been evaluated from the onset and this has helped us shape the programme – and also contributed to our win at the MAD Awards!  

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We knew that we needed to train line managers across the NHS to feel confident and able to hold conversations with their colleagues, where wellbeing was explored and reasonable adjustments were considered. 

We ended up building an evaluation process into the training made up of two parts.  The first part is a post attendance survey, where after attending the course, managers are invited to share their reflections on the training. For instance, did they find it helpful? What was their favourite part? Did they meet other colleagues that they’d like to keep linking with?

The second part of the evaluation, which I would suggest is the most important part, is the follow up survey that we circulate about 12 weeks after attendance. This is where we invite attendees to share if they are using the skills they learnt in training, and to offer examples of when they have been able to use the skills in a real life situation.  This follow up survey enables us to understand whether or not people have actually gained something long-lasting from the programme that they are now incorporating into their role as managers.

What have you learned?

Through our evaluation, we’ve found that the training has not only been helpful to people in their professional lives, but also their personal lives. We’ve had one attendee share that she uses the skills when talking to her children, to de-escalate any arguments and come to a family agreement!  We were surprised by how many people were happy to share personal examples but this has really helped us understand the value of the training.

Whilst the training was designed for line managers to use with their team members the reach has actually been much further, which is great.  

Others have shared examples of working with patients and how the training has boosted team morale and made them feel more valued because they’ve been able to go on the training and develop their skills.

How many people have been through this programme?

As of the end of April 2023, we’ve had over 5,300 managers complete the training programme.  Through our evaluation, we can see that in year 1, 95% of participants reported being very satisfied or satisfied with the training overall and in year 2, a total of 93.2% of participants reported being very satisfied or satisfied with the training overall.  Respondents to the evaluation commented that the most beneficial element of the course were the breakout sessions, which were valued for allowing time to interact, connect with peers and practice wellbeing conversations in a safe environment.

Another challenge that you have is obviously that the media is always writing about the NHS and the stories are often quite negative, about staff burnout and the NHS being broken. How does this affect you doing your role?

It’s disappointing that the media is often negative, especially when there is so much good work happening across the NHS, but I try to use this as motivation to keep doing what we’re doing and keep supporting staff.  

The negative media is also another reason behind the importance of evaluating your work and collecting dating.  We often note that a lot of the information reported in the media isn’t accurate so having a database, from where we can share the correct figures, is really important.

Another issue which large organisations are struggling with is how to get leaders to be authentically engaged in wellbeing – do you have any experience of that at your vast scale?

Leadership buy-in, for any staff wellbeing or experience activity, is crucial.  Staff want to see that their leaders are invested in their workforce, and genuinely want to support their staff to be well at work.  It is also really encouraging when you see leaders sharing their own personal reflections on why looking after their own wellbeing is important.  Afterall, we can’t do our roles and support patients if we aren’t well ourselves.  

We’ve been quite fortunate, in that since the pandemic, many leaders have taken more interest in staff wellbeing and are keen to invest in their staff.   We have a lot of leaders engaged in our programmes, who are acting as Health and Wellbeing Champions and who are actively finding ways to improve the staff experience within their organisations.  It links back to the question earlier about how to collaborate – you need to think about your messaging, what do leaders need to know in order to be authentically engaged.  

For me, I would encourage everyone to remember that we are all leaders in our own way and we can all influence others.  I would always encourage everyone to think about themselves as a leader and how they can best use their skills to influence culture change.

NHS staff are some of the busiest people in the workforce, doing the most important jobs. How do you engage them in wellbeing?

It really depends on who our audience is!  We are finding that a lot of colleagues at individual level are really interested in health and wellbeing and want to learn more about how they can look after themselves and others.  

With senior leadership teams, it’s helpful to encourage people think about why it’s important to invest in our staff now – what are the longer term cost benefits of looking after employee wellbeing and how can it support overall retention and staff experience.  

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