I was talking to a friend recently who is a nurse in the NHS. She told me something which, if we choose to act on it, could make a huge difference to how businesses work in the future.

It also tells us a great deal about how to maximise the positive aspects of employee ownership.

The Sickie Issue Pre Coronavirus

That adult version of truancy, taking a sickie, is well known to be a problem in the NHS. The ward on which my friend works requires 12 employees to be working each day. On any one day, between 1 and 2 people will be off sick. Every single day.

According to the latest Office of National Statistics, in 2017 the Banking and finance sector had the second lowest average sickness rates. In comparison, the Public admin, education and health sector has the highest sickness rates of all industries.

The ward in an NHS hospital can be a very stressful place to work. The Government has been pretty up front about wanting to privatise certain parts; funding is always tight; employees get paid considerably less that their private sector counterparts; and hard-working foreign employees face threat of having to return home due to Brexit.

My friend’s ward always seems to be understaffed. She has been telling me for years about colleagues giving up, and morale on her ward has been very low for a long time.

The Pandemic Sickie Issue

After some eight weeks of lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic, my friend told me something amazing: that nobody has been off sick for some six weeks. Not a single person, for a single day.

In that time, the public and the Government have shown true appreciation for NHS workers. Remember when we all stood outside our homes weekly to ‘Clap for the NHS’. “Protect Our NHS” was a Government slogan; videos appeared on social media of whole streets of people coming out to clap a nurse on their way to work; kids posted pictures of nurses as super heroes; rainbows in went up in the windows of shops for the NHS.

It may be that all this appreciation made hospital workers feel awkward – imagine hearing all your neighbours clapping for the NHS knowing you had taken a sickie that day!

I think something more fundamental has happened, however.

The Alignment Of Purpose

Purpose for a business is absolutely crucial. Having a clear flag in the ground around which everyone can gather is a key part of making a modern successful business. It is especially important in one that is on the transition to becoming owned by an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT).

This doesn’t mean anything, however, if the purpose of the individual is not aligned; and when it is aligned, if they cannot see how they are helping the organisation to achieve that purpose.

There are many ways of enabling this, for example through recruitment and ensuring that the purpose is clear and well understood (note – “We care about our customers” is not a clear purpose).

This might mean allowing employees to be involved in decision-making; showing them the impact of the work; and, crucially, thanking them for their contribution.

Harnessing The Power of Purpose

There are innumerable studies that show employee wellbeing has a significant impact on productivity. As the drop in sickies in the NHS shows, employee wellbeing can significantly improved by making the purpose of the business as clear as possible, and then thanking employees for helping to achieve it.

In that way a workforce can develop who do not see coming to work as a chore, but as a chance to get together with other likeminded people who are harnessing their collective abilities to achieve something worthwhile.

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