Over past months, our healthcare workers have been asked to sacrifice their family life and personal health to care for our vulnerable loved ones. It is a powerful reminder that a healthcare system is only as good as its dedicated carers.

Around the world nurses, doctors and carers are currently reporting unprecedented levels of mental and physical stress, disengagement, and fear. Staff engagement, or the measure of how people connect to their work and feel committed to their organisation, is under threat.

Now is the time to act not only because we care about our carers, but because this demanding pressure on our healthcare staff will increase the risk of burnout, jeopardise already stretched staffing levels, and, in turn, gravely threaten the quality of care for patients.

Across all industries, there is clear evidence linking high staff engagement with great customer experiences. We only need to think about the last time we were delighted as a customer and connect it to a personal interaction with an enthused employee.

In a health setting, the evidence is even stronger, and we often look to the NHS for insight into staff engagement thanks to the in-depth research they have run for many years. Analysis of the 2007 NHS national staff survey correlated with the NHS inpatient survey from the same year, showed over 12,000 correlations between staff experience and patient satisfaction.

In 2007, the NHS National Workforce Projects claimed, “…people who are highly engaged in an activity feel excited and enthusiastic about their role, say time passes quickly at work, [and] devote extra effort to the activity.” (West and Dawson) In other words, staff engagement can breed contagious enthusiasm and a willingness to go the extra mile for a patient, offering detail-oriented care and thoughtfulness.

Highly engaged staff were also reported to think about the challenges posed by work during their spare moments (i.e. commuting and on staff breaks), and resist distractions while on the job, increasing the quality of staff performance. A study of 8,597 hospital nurses by Laschinger and Leiter (2006) showed that higher work engagement was linked to safer patient outcomes, and a case study of 2,115 Dutch physicians showed that more engaged doctors were significantly less likely to make mistakes (West and Dawson).

Not surprisingly, according to an analysis of 2014 and 2015 NHS surveys, one of the largest negative influences on patient satisfaction was work pressure felt by staff. A cross-examination of the 2014 NHS Staff survey with the 2014 NHS inpatient survey, suggested the higher the work pressure felt by staff, the less satisfied the patients were. It was also reported that when staff felt unsatisfied about the quality of patient care, they were able to deliver, less adequate care was actually given.

This evidence highlights the innate interconnectivity between staff engagement and the quality of care patients receive.

For those of us whose job is to measure and improve patient experiences, one of the most important things for us to do now is to turn our attention to staff engagement. Otherwise, no matter how effective our work, we will face a continuous, serious threat over the coming years as the repercussions from the COVID19 pandemic take their toll.

WHO predicts an additional global shortfall of 18 million healthcare employees by 2030. Now is the time to put the scaffolding in place to demonstrate to healthcare workers that their needs will be met and their career choice is a good one.

As experts in continuous feedback programmes, Cemplicity has created a platform to help healthcare organisations keep their finger on the pulse of staff engagement, identify teams that need greater support and pinpoint highly engaged teams so that they can be celebrated and emulated. In our view, this is not something that can be done once a year. We are encouraging organisations to view staff engagement monitoring as they do patient experience measurement – an ongoing commitment that needs to be easy for staff and provides a pan organisation view across every week and month.

We must listen to our carers to help them “fulfill their calling of providing outstanding professional care for patients” (West and Dawson). It is the right thing to do for those who risk themselves every day to care for our most vulnerable. We need to care for them, so that they can care for us.

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