Skip to main content

Reducing avoidable employee harm by improving the application of the disciplinary policy and process

Published: 18/03/2024

In March 2023, Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) launched a programme of work to support NHS Wales organisations improve the delivery of their disciplinary policies – focussing on the importance of looking after the individuals involved, as well as the application of the process itself.

The programme, originally developed by Aneurin Bevan University Health Board’s (ABUHB), HR and Employee Wellbeing Service had identified an overuse of its disciplinary policy. In its first thirteen months, it saw a reduction of 71% in the number of investigations it commissioned, along with related savings in sickness absence (3,000+ days) and direct financial costs (over £700,000).

Andrew Cooper is Head of Programmes in the Employee Wellbeing Service at ABUHB and has been working with HEIW to scale up the ‘improving employee investigations’ programme for organisations across NHS Wales. “It’s been great to join the HEIW team to share this work and the impact it can have,” said Andrew. “When we started, the focus was on the harm that poorly commissioned and led investigations can have on the individual at the centre of them. However, we’ve increasingly seen how they can impact those involved in leading the process, including line managers, HR colleagues and union representatives.”

Since last March, HEIW has delivered training attended by representatives by nearly every NHS organisation in Wales and has also worked directly with organisations to improve their approach in this area of HR practice. “Whilst the disciplinary process can play an important part in managing work place issues, we have seen that it has often been used where a more informal approach would have been more appropriate. Taking a ‘last resort’ approach to the use of the policy is already leading to reduced harm to employees and a reduction in financial cost and waste in the system.”

A focus on ‘avoidable employee harm’ is underpinning the work, along with a growing programme of research. “We’ve drawn on lessons from the patient safety movement to inform the training and approach – considering the impact of unintended consequences, operating in complex environments and the importance of understanding the employee’s experience of the process,” said Andrew. “The programme, wider engagement with colleagues and the research is now informing a review of the NHS Wales’ disciplinary process, which will ensure a much more person-centric approach is taken to its application in the future.”

“We are delighted to have Andrew on board with us at HEIW. His leadership and the direction he’s providing for this programme is already making a real difference to our people profession in NHS Wales,” said Julie Rogers, Deputy CEO of HEIW. “It is also helping to embed the principles of compassionate leadership across our workforce and supporting our focus on improving employee retention.”

If you would like further details about the programme, visit the ‘Improving employee investigations’ hub on Gwella:

Improving Employee Investigations - Gwella HEIW Leadership Portal for Wales