Engaging with Staff to Create ‘Work Positive’ environments


Being the Saolta Group Lead for Staff Engagement & Wellbeing, offers a unique perspective on the concerns and issues that our health care staff have, whilst facilitating the creation of ‘Work Positive’ environments writes Elaine Fallon.

Elaine Fallon
Elaine Fallon

It is a privilege to be the Saolta Group Lead for StaffEngagement & Wellbeing. The role offers a uniqueperspective to the concerns and issues that our healthcare staff have been facing, and continue to face in theirday to day work. It enables me to use a variety of processes with staff and management, facilitating them incoming together to implement workable solutions, to create ‘Work Positive’ environments for all staff.

Some of these processes include provision of education and training in:

  1. Sharing personal values and working towards a shared team vision.
  2. Cultivating ‘Psychological Safety’ in staff teams.
  3. Addressing team conflict.
  4. Leadership styles that enhance team working

Since my appointment in 2019, it became clear that staff were dealing with high stress levels, exhaustion and resulting team conflict, and this was before we had the pandemic. In 2020, Covid-19 then highlighted and exacerbated those issues. Our staff were committed to giving their very best, but this was taking its toll on them. 

We must continue to give compassionate support to all our staff, those on the front line and in management positions. 

This is by no means unique to the Saolta Hospital Group, at a national level, we have been aware of health care staff facing high levels of stress, exhaustion and burnout for a while now. Covid-19 has been a significant, additional pressure, causing considerable anxiety and problems for staff.

To address these issues in Saolta, I began meeting with different staff groups  back in 2019, conducting focus groups to allow a ‘psychologically safe’ space, for staff to really open up on their thoughts, concerns and issues in their work places, and then working with staff to address areas of conflict in their teams. 

This idea of having a ‘psychologically safe’ space, means that staff are facilitated to be really open and honest about their workplaces and their colleagues, what they like and what does not work so well, without fear of repercussions. These conversations happen within facilitated team building sessions, allowing staff to tactfully describe their issues. The sessions also encourage creative thinking spaces for staff, to help them identify team conflict hot spots, and then focus on workable solutions that can be brought to senior managers.

Over the two years I have been working in this role, these are some of the learning points the Saolta Hospital Group have welcomed and supported, with some of our health care teams:

  • Clarification of staff roles.
  • Simulation Based Learning.
  • Introduction of flexible time ‘Team Huddles.’
  • Introduction of ‘Buddy system’ for new staff (newly qualified and new arrivals). 
  • Feedback mechanisms – to enable staff to have a voice and be heard in the organisation.
  • Showing appreciation and respect for staff, celebrating their ‘wins’ in the organisation.
  • Introduction of coaching techniques with teams and individuals
  • Reverse Mentoring.

We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go. We understand the importance of recognising the efforts and self-sacrificing spirit of our health care staff, through senior leadership voicing their appreciation. However, we also believe it is crucial that in giving our staff a voice, and in demonstrating we are really listening, that we prove to them how agreed, new ways of working, are going to be embraced and implemented, in collaboration with them, in our healthcare organisations. 

As we continue to emerge from Covid-19 and deal with the backlog of healthcare issues, we must continue to give compassionate support to all our staff, those on the front line and in management positions. We do this by continuing to show compassionate and authentic leadership at all levels, ensuring staff needs are prioritised along with patients’ and families’ needs and, demonstrating how much we value our workforce. ‘Without a physically and psychologically safe and healthy workforce, excellent health care is not possible’ (Berwick, 2019).

As Saolta Group Lead for Staff Engagement & Wellbeing, I am continuing to work with our staff, listening to their thoughts, feelings and opinions on how best to move forwards, taking cognisance of the journey we have all been on, what we have learned so far and, how we would like to see change and agreed new ways of working, implemented in a collaborative way in our health care organisations.

Elaine Fallon is the Saolta Group Lead for Staff Engagement & Wellbeing.