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Staff satisfaction and organisational performance: evidence from a longitudinal secondary analysis of the NHS staff survey and outcome data

Health Services and Delivery Research, No. 2.50

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Author Information
Southampton (UK): NIHR Journals Library; .


There is little evidence from the NHS setting about the relationship between staff experience and organisational performance. This study used national secondary data, including NHS staff surveys, from 2009–11 to test links between staff experience, absenteeism and turnover with performance. The new analysis using large-scale data confirmed that better staff experiences in general are associated with better outcomes for staff and patients.



The search for causal links between human resource management (HRM) and organisational performance has dominated academic and practitioner debates for many years. However, much of this work comes from contexts outside health care and/or the UK.


This study tested the later stages of a well-established HRM model, testing whether or not there was evidence of causal links between staff experience and intermediate (staff) and final (patient and organisational) outcomes, and whether or not these differed in parts of the NHS. We used large-scale longitudinal secondary data sets in order to answer these questions in a thorough way.

Data sources:

Searches were conducted using Health Management Information Consortium, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Social Sciences Citation Index and EBSCOhost (from inception to May 2012).


Staff experience data came from the national NHS staff surveys of 2009, 2010 and 2011, with trust-level measures of staff absenteeism, turnover, patient satisfaction, mortality and infection rates gathered from the same NHS years. Several analytical methods were used, including multilevel analysis, mediated regression, latent growth curve modelling and cross-lagged correlation analysis.


In general, the pattern was that better staff experiences are associated with better outcomes for employees and patients. Multilevel analysis found that the positive effects of staff perceiving equal opportunities on employee outcomes were especially strong, as were the negative effects of aggression and discrimination. Organisational-level analysis showed that better staff experiences (particularly those associated with better well-being and better job design, and more positive attitudes about the organisation generally) were linked to lower levels of absenteeism and greater patient satisfaction. There was some evidence that the relationship with absenteeism is causal, although the causal link with patient satisfaction was less clear-cut. Some relationships between staff experience and turnover, and some between staff experience and patient mortality, were also found (and a few with infection rates), with longitudinal analysis comparatively unclear about the direction of causality. Although many staff experiences were associated with absenteeism and patient satisfaction, these effects were not mediated and the reason staff experiences are linked to patient satisfaction appears to be separate from the link with absenteeism. In general, there is no single group of staff (or geographical region) for which staff experiences are the most important. However, nurses’ experiences generally had the strongest effects on absenteeism, followed by medical/dental staff. Few clear or explainable patterns for other staff group effects were found. Absenteeism was most readily predicted by staff experience in the West Midlands. Two Action Learning Sets of managers, and patient and public involvement representatives broadly supported the emerging findings of the factors that seemed to be important indicators of staff satisfaction and organisational outcomes.


The relatively blunt nature of the data used meant that conclusions about the direction of causality were less clear. More specific limitations included that we had to limit outcome variables to those that were available already, that many variables were available for acute trusts, and that we could not break down data further within trusts or years.


Overall, the research confirmed many expected links between staff experiences and outcomes, providing support for that part of the overall HRM model in the NHS. However, conclusions about the direction of causality were less clear (except for absenteeism). This is probably due in part to the relatively blunt nature of the data used. Future research may involve the careful evaluation of interventions designed to improve staff experience on more specific groups of staff, and the continued use of secondary data sources, such as those used in this report, to answer more specific, theoretically driven questions.


The National Institute for Health Research Health Services and Delivery Research programme.


Article history

The research reported in this issue of the journal was funded by the HS&DR programme or one of its proceeding programmes as project number 10/1011/11. The contractual start date was in January 2012. The final report began editorial review in July 2013 and was accepted for publication in December 2013. The authors have been wholly responsible for all data collection, analysis and interpretation, and for writing up their work. The HS&DR editors and production house have tried to ensure the accuracy of the authors’ report and would like to thank the reviewers for their constructive comments on the final report document. However, they do not accept liability for damages or losses arising from material published in this report.

Declared competing interests of authors


Copyright © Queen’s Printer and Controller of HMSO 2014. This work was produced by Powell et al. under the terms of a commissioning contract issued by the Secretary of State for Health. This issue may be freely reproduced for the purposes of private research and study and extracts (or indeed, the full report) may be included in professional journals provided that suitable acknowledgement is made and the reproduction is not associated with any form of advertising. Applications for commercial reproduction should be addressed to: NIHR Journals Library, National Institute for Health Research, Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre, Alpha House, University of Southampton Science Park, Southampton SO16 7NS, UK.

Included under terms of UK Non-commercial Government License.

Bookshelf ID: NBK263759PMID: 25642572DOI: 10.3310/hsdr02500


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