How workforce studies can give valuable insights

Newsletter articles

1 Jul 2013

HR Insight Issue 17

Dilys Robinson, Principal Research Fellow

Dilys RobinsonDuring 2012, IES carried out a study of the Family Nurse workforce on behalf of the Family Nurse Partnership (FNP) National Unit. The brief was to explore workforce issues, especially recruitment, retention and job satisfaction, amongst Family Nurses (FNs) and their Supervisors. The study included an online survey, focus groups, telephone interviews and an analysis of workforce data from the FNP database, where possible making comparisons with nurses, midwives and health visitors working outside the FNP.

The FNP model was introduced in England following extensive use and evaluation in the United States. The FN model sees specially trained professionals working on an intense one-to-one basis with young, first-time mothers from early pregnancy until the child is two years old. Much of the work is focused on sharing information with the young mothers and helping them to change their behaviours by using a 'strengths-based' approach. The work requires intense relationship-building, often with clients who have complex, multiple needs.

Our key findings were:

  • Most FNs have a health visiting background and are experienced community workers.
  • Most love their jobs, to the extent that some could not currently envisage working anywhere else, such was their enthusiasm. Over 80 per cent rated their role in the FNP as 'better' or 'much better' than their previous job.
  • Individuals' sense of 'feeling valued and involved' is very high, and it is clear that FNs and Supervisors feel trusted and able to voice their opinions and make suggestions:

‘You feel valued and special. The whole ethos is that how you're treated is how you'll treat your clients. It's a very valuable lesson.’

  • The senior leads we interviewed spoke highly of the Programme and its positive results so far:

‘When you hear young parents talk, when you see them with their babies, that's when you see the power of the Programme.’

  • While FNs spoke openly about the love they had for their jobs, they also talked about the extremely demanding nature of the role and some questioned how long they would be able to cope:

‘It's emotional labour and it is emotionally draining. The emotional impact of this role is like nothing I've ever seen before.’

  • FNs and Supervisors agreed that the clinical supervision model helped them to cope and to perform well, made them feel supported and was an improvement on the approaches to performance management they had experienced in previous roles. A point of particular value was regular access to a psychologist.
  • Sickness absence is low amongst the FNP workforce, with most having had no or just one day of sickness absence in the past year. By contrast, the sickness absence rate for all nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff in England is around five per cent (around ten days a year).
  • There are some reservations about career opportunities within the FNP. In particular, it is hard for FNs to acquire the managerial experience necessary for promotion to a Supervisor post.
  • A major expansion to the Programme is planned between now and 2015, meaning that far more FNs will need to be recruited over the next two years.
  • FNs are starting to share their learning and techniques more widely with colleagues in health visiting, midwifery and social care.

Word cloud: ‘working in the FNP is….’


Word cloud: ‘working in the FNP is….’

What is involved in a workforce study?

Gaining a deep understanding of your workforce, or of a particular group within the workforce, brings many benefits. You will gain a better understanding of what motivates people, how they feel about their jobs and their organisation, their expectations, and what might cause them to stay or leave. This will help with career management, engagement programmes, workforce planning and retention packages. Typically, a workforce study will involve two or more of the following:

  • a survey of the workforce, or a deep analysis of existing survey data
  • an engagement diagnostic, via survey data
  • analysis of workforce data over time, to spot trends, patterns and possible issues around turnover and retention
  • comparisons with national data wherever possible
  • focus groups and/or interviews, to gather qualitative data and test out possible actions.