Earlier in 2018, the health select committee reported on the nursing workforce in the UK and was highly critical of the policies and management practices that have led to the current crisis in the recruitment and retention of nurses. Since the publication of the report, the situation has worsened, described last month by Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at the King's Fund think tank, as at risk of becoming a "national emergency": there are presently 42,000 NHS nursing vacancies in England, that is one in every 11 positions vacant.

There seem to be a number of issues that have contributed to this shortfall but underlying them all was that nurses feel undervalued. Nurses cited issues as varied as the lack of basic facilities in the workplace, such as kettles and fridges, to the lack of flexible working. 

To try to improve the health and wellbeing of nurses, The Royal College of Nursing announced its ‘Healthy Workplace, Healthy You’ campaign. Healthcare managers are encouraged to ensure nurses take their breaks, are well-hydrated and have access to nutritional food - ‘Rest, Rehydrate. Refuel’ as they put it. But we need to go further than this to ensure we aren’t overwhelmed by our increasingly demanding working lives.

Four top tips to create a healthy workplace: 

1.    Small changes make a big difference
Leaders at the online travel company Expedia, understand that stress can be reduced through exercise, relaxation, hobbies and making sure that spending time with family and friends isn’t sacrificed for longer work hours. Expedia go! is a wellbeing initiative that offers employees information, resources and tools to develop and maintain a well-balanced lifestyle focused on improving physical and mental health.

Connie Symes, former executive VP of human resources at Expedia, said: “The impetus of go! is really about making small, sustainable changes that, when done repeatedly and in combination, lead to a better overall quality of life. It can be taking the stairs instead of the elevator or putting down the computer and spending time with your family.” Symes recognises that a healthy workplace energises and revitalises people. 

2.    Flexible working = increased happiness = increased productivity
It is interesting that nurses identify the lack of flexible working as contributing to their poor job satisfaction. The rigidity of nurses’ contracts seems out of step here: our research ‘Flexible Working - goodbye nine to five’ identified that 94% of UK companies now offer some form of flexibility.

Flexible working can reduce costs, offer access to a wider talent pool to recruit, and retain staff when their life circumstances change as well as increasing happiness and productivity. Home based working is an attractive option for many, saving on expensive office space for the employer and allowing the employee the autonomy to control their working day. It requires a different style of leadership, high degrees of trust and real clarity about how performance is measured, but it could be worth considering. 

3.    Take responsibility 
In 2017 The Institute of Leadership & Management’s ‘Mind Culture’ report highlighted employers’ responsibility to look after the physical and emotional wellbeing of their employees, to improve the performance of an organisation as a whole. The demands of today’s workplace - fast-paced technology advances, new regulatory requirements and increasing customer expectations - can all contribute to stress. It is the role of an effective leader to help themselves and their teams manage this. 

However, the #MeToo movement has highlighted that a leader’s safeguarding obligations extend further than ensuring employees’ physical safety – to protect them from workplace accidents – and supporting their mental health. The need to safeguard them against inappropriate, predatory behaviour is equally important. Be mindful of power dynamics between people and ensure they are not being abused. Ask yourself how you safeguard the relationships that you have with your team members, and that they have with each other. 

4.    Optimise your resources
Effective leaders understand that the different areas of our life are not isolated, but interdependent, energising each other. Hari Kalymnios, an expert on wellbeing at work, delivered a free webinar on the Healthy Workplace for the Institute earlier this year and explained how stimulating all the areas of our life increases the availability of our resources overall. 

How to create a healthy workplace in practice

We have identified Achievement to be one of the five dimensions of great leadership, alongside Authenticity, Ownership, Collaboration and Vision. Creating a healthy workplace is a component of Achievement. Effective leaders harness potential and enable everyone to achieve great success; one way to do this is through creating a healthy workplace.
To improve your leadership skills further, try out our flagship e-learning tool, MyLeadership, where you can take our leadership profile questionnaire and receive a personalised report. Your report will reveal how well you match up against our five dimensions, celebrate your strengths and encourage you to keep on developing.