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Be careful of celebrating staff as ‘heroes’, NHSE advises trusts

Published on: 16 Oct 2023

Trusts haven been warned to be careful of “contentious” approaches to staff recognition, such as those that mimic the “clap for carers” initiative organised during the pandemic.

NHS England has published a Staff Recognition Framework which stresses marking staff achievements is important. However, it also warns staff could also be demoralised by recognition they felt was derisory.

The framework says: ”During the pandemic, studies suggested the weekly 8pm ‘clap for carers’ movement and use of the word ‘heroes’ were contentious approaches to staff recognition. The NHS is always in the media spotlight. Don’t let this put you off but do consider the broader political and economic context.”

Recent strikes saw clinicians make the point that organised clapping was no substitute for inflation-linked pay increases.

The document for senior leaders recommends “developing a recognition strategy” which takes a triple track “formal, informal and everyday” approach to celebrating staff achievement.

It said “evidence shows that pay alone will not influence staff wellbeing, engagement, and retention in the long-term – praise and social approval have also proved to be critical factors”. 

In this context, the framework said it was concerning that: ”the most recent NHS staff survey illustrates that approximately half of staff do not feel recognised at work.” Nuffield Trust research last year found 11 per cent of hospital and community health staff left in a 12-month period.

The framework also highlights that: ”Effective engagement from recognition is only possible for our staff when they also have: autonomy in their role (as far as their role allows), clear objectives, a role that is the right fit for their skills, a positive perception of their work-life balance, and a positive relationship with their line manager.”

The guidance said while “some organisations choose to issue, certificates, letters or badges for significant milestones or achievements. Ask your staff about the type of award that would be important to them but consider this in line with your budget and usage of taxpayer money – for instance use [the] Electronic Staff Record to determine how many staff are due to hit significant milestones along with the cost implication”.

The document gives an example from North Tees and Hartlepool Foundation Trust, which had surveyed staff to ask what benefits or rewards they would like to see. The responses fell into six themes, one of which was “finance, eg voucher schemes, debt advice”.

Other guidance noted that introverts might prefer to be discreetly thanked and that non-clinical employees, like “cleaning or estates” staff could sometimes be overlooked.