NHS Portsmouth was established as a commissioning organisation on 1st April 2010 after separating from the former Portsmouth City Teaching Primary Care Trust (PCT).
By 2011 it employed just over 700 staff, and operated across two main functions: commissioning a wide range of health services for the local population, and engaging with partners, patients and the public over the planning and delivery of local health services.
The organisation had an ongoing and strong commitment, to effective management of staffing resources, including increasing capability, improving development opportunities and enhancing staff engagement.
NHS Portsmouth was committed to being an employer of choice, wanting to attract, recruit and retain a high performing workforce. This was seen as increasing efficiency and enabling the maximum return from tight resources. Achievements already included being recognised by the award of the ‘2 tick’ disability symbol, ‘Age Positive Employer Champion’ status from the Department of Work & Pensions and the Work Health and Wellbeing Hallmark from Portsmouth City Council.
Moving away from traditional approaches to staff management, I worked with them to develop an overarching People Strategy with Workforce, Wellness, Staff Engagement, Recruitment and Learning and Development.
In 2005 its predecessor organisation had already began operating without a Default Retirement Age (DRA) instead focusing on the well-being of all staff. Where ‘Wellness’ was seen as embracing the whole person – physical and mental health both in and outside of work. ‘Wellness management’ covered the need for providing advice, for making organisational changes where necessary and appropriate, and providing people with the skills and knowledge needed to stay well. Where problems persisted, it encompassed the need to provide support, looking at tackling wellness at an early stage in the process, before the situation needs ‘treatment’. This is of particular benefit to those workers who might be experiencing declining physical abilities such as poor sight or back problems.
In enhancing the total well-being of employees, we recognised that all employees are a key resource in the delivery of quality services to patients/clients and wellness is central to both this and the conduct of effective employee relations. It helps to reduce sickness absence, improve productivity, and enables an organisation to retain valuable skills and experience for longer.
Through the people strategy the organisation committed to engaging with their employees and using employee empowerment to influence positive change.
The organisation’s approach to older workers was further strengthened by the organisations recognition of the need to not only continue to develop talent of all ages but also to retain talent with a corporate memory who can pass on their knowledge to newer and in many cases, younger and freshly qualified, employees (who lacked practical experience in a health care setting).
Regular performance reviews, which took place at least annually, and a robust sickness management policy were key components of the approach. The latter ensures that any physical or support needs of staff are assessed and met; for example making adjustments such as through the provision of special computer monitors or chair backs or revised working hours.
A range of flexible working options, which help people chose when they work, include job share, term time only working, annualised hours, flexi-start and end times and flexible retirement options, were put in place to hep staff give their best, and the organisation get their best. For older workers in particular, there was the additional opportunity to work flexibly within skills and competencies, in terms of ‘downgrading’ to less demanding roles as appropriate and possible. This enabled individuals to continue to work, and the organisation to retain valuable experience and skills within the workforce.
While many employers are concerned about performance managing older staff, I worked with the organisations managers to ensure they held regular performance reviews and annual appraisals for all staff, regardless of age or role, and their compliance with this policy was rigorously enforced and monitored – helping all staff to understand what was expected of them and what was acceptable practice within that workplace.
This is based on their belief that it is important to deal with performance issues as they arise. We were clear to state “it is not about punishing staff; it is about helping them deal with the role they are in and to find out what obstacles they might be facing so they can be addressed. Usually they are aware they are struggling and are grateful that they are being offered support”
The positive approach to older workers resulted in approximately 38% of the 700 employees being over 52 years of age (with 2 over 72 years). The organisation’s attitude to both recruiting and retaining older workers was further evidenced by the fact that in one year, approximately 20% of new recruits were over the age of 52.
In order to measure attainment that talent at all levels of the organisation are supported to reach their potential, the take up of courses by age was formally monitored.
Results showed that, in a six month period, 350 employees over the age of 52 completed courses (including staff taking more than one course). This included 54 over the age of 64; clearly dispelling the stereotyped view of some employers that older workers are neither interested nor able to learn and develop. Keeping workers of all age’s upskilled is key to a motivated, highly productive workforce.
In line with many research studies, (and as a benefit of engagement with older workers) their sickness figures show that certainly over the year 2010/11, the ‘older’ workforce did not disproportionally take more sick leave than those in younger age groups.
This particular example of one part of a People Strategy shows the benefits to the organisation (and the individuals) that a good overarching strategy and approach to the workforce and its many facets, can bring for an organisation.
• Adopt and implement workforce policies that focus on individual abilities and competencies regardless of age or disability
• Monitor implementation of policies by age to ensure they are being implemented equally across all age groups
• Recruit the best regardless of age
• Recognise that older workers have amassed a significant amount of knowledge, skill and experience and provide opportunities for these to be passed on to younger colleagues
• Work with Occupational Health to ensure staff who have been off long term sick are assessed and supported to return to work through, for example, environmental adjustments, or revised working hours.