What does your employer do to make nurses feel valued?

Employers and senior nurses are finding new ways to show staff they are appreciated

Employers and senior nurses are finding new ways to show staff they are appreciated

  • While unable to improve nurses’ pay and conditions, senior staff in NHS organisations are making small steps to ensure their colleagues and teams feel valued  
  • Initiatives include weekly nominated awards announced in hospital-wide meetings, and welcome packs for newly qualified nurses
  • Making nurses feel valued and being known as an organisation that supports, trains and develops its staff boosts employee satisfaction and may improve nurse retention

Karen Goudie with teammates at University Hospital Monklands, Lanarkshire Picture: Mike Wilkinson

On Fridays when staff ‘huddle’ at University Hospital Monklands, there is one item that is always on the agenda – the Greatix drum.

Named as a variation on the risk-management system Datix, Greatix – as in ‘you’re great’ – is a way of recognising individuals or teams that have gone above and beyond.

It’s a simple and inexpensive initiative, but it makes a real impact, says Karen Goudie, chief nurse at the hospital, which is part of NHS Lanarkshire.

‘It’s not a grand gesture, but it’s lovely because it changes the tone,’ she says. ‘Everyone claps, and they hear a positive story about what someone has done.’

Small-scale celebrations that have a big effect on morale

It certainly isn’t glitzy. The Greatix was fashioned from a cheap red tombola drum and some stickers.

‘There’s a hatch where people can put in a nomination for staff whose work was exceptional that week, or if someone had an idea that really made a difference, or a team came through a difficult scenario,’ says Ms Goudie. ‘At our weekly whole-hospital huddle we roll out the tombola and pick out a nominated person. The whole team hears about it and the nominee gets a Greatix certificate for their ward.’

Staff applaud the latest recipient of the weekly Greatix awards Picture: Mike Wilkinson

An initiative to recognise exceptional staff or services might once have involved a big night out. Although these events have their place, some NHS organisations are finding that smaller-scale celebrations are having a big effect, with some avoiding glamorous events altogether.

‘We used to hire a hotel for our awards event. We spoke to staff about it and they felt it was a celebration for the minority; they wanted something that was a bit more personal’

Kate Bond, matron for specialist services, Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Such smaller gestures include welcome packs for newly-qualified nurses and heartfelt and personal thank yous from the senior management team.

Senior nurses leading these initiatives are aware they have no power to improve nurses’ pay or cut patient demand amid UK-wide nursing shortages. However, they hope simple expressions of thanks go some way towards helping staff feel valued and even improving retention rates.

Kate Bond, matron for specialist services at the Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, believes that a focus on valuing staff has been instrumental in the trust’s journey from being a ‘heads down’ organisation with poor staff survey results to one where people enjoy working.

‘We used to have a Pride award,’ she explains. ‘We hired a hotel and the same people used to turn up each year. It was great and it recognised people’s hard work, but it reached a very limited number of people.

‘We spoke to staff about that event and heard overwhelmingly that they felt it was a celebration for the minority. They told us they wanted something different, something simple – something that was a bit more personal.’

Valuing staff: how does your workplace compare?

What does your employer do to show that it values you? Or what should it do?

Is there a member of your team – senior or junior – who has their special way of recognising your contribution and hard work?

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Annual event to say #thankyou to staff

Based on the feedback, the Bournemouth trust board suggested managers have a rethink. As a result, there is now an annual #thankyou event, to which all staff are invited. There's a marquee in the hospital grounds, with food and games, but importantly it’s also a forum for patients and colleagues to recognise staff. They are invited to nominate people online and their comments are passed to the staff member’s manager and displayed at the event.

‘We cover the walls of the marquee with all of the #thankyous that people receive throughout the year,’ says Ms Bond.  It is such a lovely sight, because people come in and read them and find their own names.’

‘I can’t control how much money people are paid. What I can do is make the time they are at work as enjoyable as possible’

Kate Bond

This and other developments, such as giving team leaders small sums of money to reward their staff – for example, with a coffee machine or lunch out – has ‘definitely, definitely’ had a positive impact, she stresses.

‘We’ve done the #thankyou event for three years – the first in September 2017. We had a small table where we put a pack of sticky notes and asked for feedback. The table was absolutely covered in notes saying how wonderful the event was.

Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust's annual #thankyou event. Picture: Mike Wilkinson

‘I had a nurse come and see me a couple of weeks after to say that they had been ready to leave our organisation, but they came to that day and it reawakened why they wanted to work in the trust, and showed that they were valued. They’ve now since blossomed and progressed in the trust.

Making time at work as enjoyable as possible for staff

‘For the past two years we’ve really focused on getting thank you trolleys out to the wards, including a late-night trolley run, seeing the night staff and offering biscuits. We’ve noticed that people are more “heads up” and smiling, saying hello to each other. It’s those little things that are different, because we were previously had a “heads down” culture.’

One of Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust's executive team gives out biscuits to night staff as a thank you for their hard work

She accepts, however, that while it’s all very well to hand out a mug or a box of sweets, there is an argument to say that what staff really want are decent pay and conditions.

‘I find that one really hard,’ she concedes. ‘There are things that I can control and things I can’t control, and I can’t control how much money people are paid. What I can do is make the time they are at work as enjoyable as possible.’

Tips for managers and employers 

  • Showing that you value staff doesn’t have to involve a glitzy ceremony – sometimes small and simple can have the biggest impact
  • Ask staff what they want – you might be surprised
  • Initiatives such as thoughtful welcome packs set the right tone for newly qualified nurses from day one
  • Even if nurse managers don’t have the power to change terms and conditions, they can do their best to make people’s time at work as enjoyable as possible
  • Initiatives that demonstrate to staff that they are valued need not cost a fortune, but can help change the culture of an organisation


Staff who feel valued might be easier to retain

Ms Bond says it’s unclear whether there’s a direct correlation between staff retention and the trust’s policy to value its workforce. ‘We haven’t done that research so I just don’t know,’ she says. ‘But while it’s not tangible, and there aren’t any data for it, it feels like a nicer organisation to work for; it feels better.’

‘We asked staff what they wanted and they really want us to reward them through education and development’

Karen Goudie, chief nurse at University Hospital Monklands in Lanarkshire

RCN national officer for employment relations Kim Sunley welcomes initiatives, such as the Bournemouth scheme, that reward staff and support their well-being and suggests they are extended more widely if they are shown to improve morale.

However, she adds: 'They can't change the fact that most hospitals and community teams are desperately short-staffed, and that as a result, many staff are struggling to take their breaks, get food or even have a drink of water.  Employers must concentrate on ensuring nursing staff have access to these basic necessities, as well as on more innovative well-being schemes.'

In Bournemouth, the positive 'feel' of the organisation is reflected in more positive responses in the trust’s staff survey, and also in its most recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections. ‘We got “outstanding” for our well-led section, so our leaders are setting the right tone and doing the right things for staff, and what’s filtering through is that everyone has a responsibility as a leader, not just those in formal leadership roles,' Ms Bond says.

Asking staff what they want can sometimes throw up surprising results, but it is vital to listen, says Ms Goudie, of University Hospital Monklands in Lanarkshire.

‘We asked staff what they wanted and they really want us to reward them through education and development,’ says Ms Goudie. ‘We tested it last year and will formalise it this year so that people know what the Monklands education and development plan looks like and if they come to work for us, this is what they’ll get throughout their career.’

New nurse Rachel Donnelly with
her Monklands lilac name badge

Welcome packs for new nurses are a proactive way to offer support

Being proactive about making new staff feel valued is also part of that, she says. After starting out by giving newly qualified nurses welcome packs that were paid for by the senior nursing staff, the following year they were able to access health board money to run a different campaign, including a welcome day.

The event was open to the previous year’s new nurses too, and included workshops and education about clinical skills and managing particular challenges, such as delirium, frailty and sepsis.

‘This year we gave our newly qualified nurses a lilac badge and we put some information around the hospital to remind people what the badge said and encourage people to say hello.

‘The whole hospital could see “Oh, that’s a new graduate” and be welcoming. The response has been really positive.’

The lasting value of a warm welcome

When Lynne O’Kane started her first job as a newly qualified staff nurse at the Burnock Ward in East Ayrshire Community Hospital, she was charmed to receive an unusual welcome pack.

A carefully chosen selection of inexpensive items was accompanied by a note that emphasised that she and other team members could ask for support at any time; crucially, it also pointed out that the job would have its challenges. The note explains the thinking behind the contents of the pack, such as a pen and pencil because communication is essential and a KitKat because taking a break is important.

‘Receiving this kind and thoughtful gift as a newly qualified staff nurse made me feel welcomed into the team,’ says Ms O’Kane, who started just over a year ago. ‘I felt supported and appreciated as a new member. The words sum up the daily life of a staff nurse on the ward and help me remember that I can shout for help and support when I need it.’

Looking after colleagues is a shift in culture

The welcome pack is similar to that introduced by Karen Goudie, chief nurse at University Hospital Monklands, who developed her own version having seen something similar on Twitter.

NHS Ayrshire and Arran nurse director Hazel Borland believes that rewarding staff is essential. ‘There’s a lot of evidence that shows that we need to value each other – if we don’t, then we don’t have the personal resilience to look after patients. I think it has become much more accepted practice for colleagues to reward their teammates in this way.’

She encourages her senior team to reward staff in their own teams – for example, they have ‘muggings’, where staff are nominated to receive a mug in recognition of particularly good work.

But there are also board-wide initiatives, such as the Ayrshire Achieves awards, which encourage staff and members of the public to nominate individuals and teams in different categories, ranging from compassionate care to innovative ideas. There is also an award for looking after staff.

This signifies a positive change in culture, Ms Borland adds. ‘Even 20 years ago, you left yourself at the door to focus on the patient. Now it’s much more about bringing your whole self to work, and it’s also about looking after your colleagues. We need to nurture each other.’


Extra measures can boost a trust’s reputation as a good employer

Being based between Edinburgh and Glasgow, Lanarkshire has to fight to attract and keep its nurses, says Ms Goudie. ‘As a chief nurse, I work on recruitment and retention, and nurses are often attracted by the big cities – I was myself. But this year, the number of newly qualified nurses has gone up.

‘I think recruitment remains difficult, but the effort that we’re putting in to show what the hospital can do for newly qualified nurses helps. It says that you’ll be looked after if you work for us.’

I’ve heard anecdotal stories of young nurses saying that their friend works for another health board, but is it okay if she comes and speaks to us about applying. We’ve seen that a few times, because the culture is open and honest. Our executive nurse director is big on looking after our staff by measuring psychological safety and understanding what’s going on.’

'We need to value each other – if we don’t, then we don’t have the personal resilience to look after patients’

Hazel Borland, nurse director, NHS Ayrshire and Arran

But what about those who say that working in healthcare is its own reward – and that if people want recognition they should work in banking or the law?

Ms Bond for one has strong views on this: ‘There’s a place for recognition in every profession. Healthcare jobs are difficult, and anything that we can do to celebrate that can only be a good thing.’

Jennifer Trueland is a health journalist 

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