Staff support lead at Northampton General Hospital.
According to the Nuffield Trust, data based on 50 NHS trusts suggests that in the two years to August 2020, an estimated three in four (76%) registered nurse vacancies and 80% of doctor vacancies were being filled by temporary staff¹.
Without temporary staff to fill these vacancy gaps there would be a significant impact on the quality of patient care. Temporary staff need to be flexible, adaptable, quick to orientate themselves within an unfamiliar environment, rapidly understand department workflows and tasks and navigate staff culture and dynamics.
Organisations have values to guide and inspire their employees’ best efforts in providing patient care. However, it has been said that if you want to know if these are being lived ask a temporary member of staff.
Too frequently it is the case that temporary workers are made to feel like a workplace resource rather than a valued team member. Moya Flaherty is Head of Professional Development at Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust and passionate about excellence in nursing and bringing everyone together to deliver the best possible care. Here she offers seven practical tips that go beyond posting your organisation’s values on a noticeboard to ensure temporary staff are made to feel welcome and appreciated.
1. Be welcoming
Simply saying hello can make a difference to how welcome someone feels. A welcoming culture needs to start at the top though and filter its way down an organisation. When leadership teams say hello to everyone or starts a conversation, it makes staff feel visible, important and shows that they are interested. Making this a norm between all levels of staff encourages the feeling of being part of a team.
2. Offer an orientation of the work environment
An early orientation at the start of a shift, or longer booking, ensures temporary staff know their way around a department and where to find equipment or supplies. This saves time overall as they more seamlessly fit into a team’s workflow and don’t have to frequently interrupt other colleagues for information. Providing a basic ‘How to’ pack can also be a beneficial resource.
3. Provide access to online systems
Even the most routine processes and procedures, such as taking and recording observations, require electronic documentation today. It is essential to have a system in place that allows temporary staff access, otherwise you are paying for a registered nurse who is unable to perform tasks appropriate to their grade. However, when setting up access to IT systems governance needs to be considered such as the generation of one-off passwords and keeping records of who these have been given to.
4. Do not give temporary staff tasks no one else wants
Temporary staff are less likely to want to return to a department where they are given the least desirable tasks. It is important to treat all members of staff equally in the distribution of workload, even if they are there for just one shift, as it ensures temporary staff feel valued and part of the wider team.
5. Make training opportunities accessible to them
Inclusion in training opportunities will make temporary staff feel valued, part of a team and reinforce the view of your organisation as an investor in the whole of its workforce. It will also ultimately help permanent members of staff as they will be working alongside and supported by more highly skilled temporary colleagues. Most importantly though, by including temporary staff in training opportunities offered by your organisation you are investing in patient care and the care of all future patients they encounter.
6. Ensure their voice is heard.
Opportunities for feedback should be made available to temporary staff. If the organisation’s values are not their lived experience, ask why this is and what can be done to facilitate change. Something as simple as a secure place to store belongings whilst on shift could make the difference between a temporary member of staff returning to a department or avoiding it in the future. Channels of communication should be made available at all levels, and it is worth considering how you can ensure temporary staff are represented in tools such as the Pathway to Excellence Framework.
7. Recognise the importance of temporary staff
It is important to have a culture that recognises and values temporary staff and the skills and qualities they can bring to a workplace. Teams work best when there is a shared goal, and everyone is working towards it regardless of hierarchy or contracted hours. There needs to be a step away from the culture of perceiving temporary staff as simply there to plug a gap, to one where they are valued as an adaptable and flexible asset to a team. Patients do not consider whether a member of staff is temporary or permanent, they just want to receive excellent care. A temporary member of staff who is made to feel valued and part of a team will be engaged and motivated and meet this patient expectation.