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Max St John

A new initiative: Happy NHS / NHS employees first

I’ve realised that I want to see if I can help make working in the NHS a fulfilling experience for as many people as possible.

I don’t have a project, a client or a team, but I wondered what would happen if I just started working on it out in the open.

A bit of back story.

Over the past few years, I’ve become very aware of how difficult life is getting for some people in the NHS.

Family members and friends, who started their careers out of a sense of purpose and passion, have ended up stressed, anxious, overloaded and unable to do the work they love.

One person I know got to the point where it was all too much and left to protect their health.

I’m personally indebted to the NHS – my wife had a very difficult birth, was ill afterwards and at the most difficult time of our life, everyone I met was incredible. And that’s just one of many stories I could tell.

I got to thinking that there’s a huge opportunity to do something good here. The NHS is massive (I’m told it employs about 1.7m people in the UK – it’s the world’s fifth largest employer, after the US DoD, McDonalds, the Chinese army and a few others).

Most of us know someone who works within it, and it touches the lives of nearly every single person in the UK. But it is facing massive pressure and some people clearly are struggling.

I don’t think it’s broken and that I can fix it – this is important to be clear about because starting from the assumption that something is a problem to be fixed can be patronising and set the wrong tone. And I don’t think I have a clear and full picture.

And I certainly don’t have the dream client and a big (read: any) budget.

But I have done a little work with it, I have some knowledge of the challenges, and I have a lot of experience creating new working practices and unlocking creativity in companies.

So, given what I know and have, and what I don’t know and don’t have, I’m putting this out there:

  • I want to know how I can bring more compassion and empathy to people and teams – to help them to connect to each other better and look after their own wellbeing.
  • I want to know how I can (re)connect personal purpose and organisational purpose in a way that creates deeply fulfilling organisations.
  • I want to know how I can develop new working practices that allow people to bring their full creative potential.

All of this falls under the loose banner of ‘employees first’ – the idea that focusing on creating truly purposeful, fulfilling workplaces means more effective, productive and meaningful organisations that improve the lives of everyone they touch.

Given I don’t know where to start, but figured I probably knew a few of the right people, I thought I’d just ask.

So, I simply posted something on Facebook: ‘If I wanted to bring more compassion, empathy and purpose to the NHS, who should I talk to?’

As a result, I have four people lined up to talk to. How great is that?

My intention is to simply test my ideas so I can develop something useful, and gather co-conspirators. I figure that if I just get my intention out there, only good things can happen.

I’ve already spoken to one person – Kev Wyke – an organisational development expert, coach and facilitator who worked in the NHS for years.

He helped validate a few thoughts and suggested some great new ideas.

I learned that for many people there is a disconnect between the personal sense of purpose they bring, and the purpose of the organisations as they have become. The changes brought about by financial pressure don’t fit with ‘why I’m here’.

The ones that are doing well are connecting purpose with change and deep work on values – this is really reassuring – something I’m sure we can learn from and do more of. The organisations that are challenged have lost that connection – the purpose has changed but there isn’t a willingness to admit it.

Some big opportunities to help are:

  • supporting change resilience through mindful practices – compassionate communication, mindful leadership etc
  • introducing models that connect purpose and process – pulling purpose into a more formal business structure
  • working with money stories – helping the financial directors work creatively with money and narrative to support change

This first conversation was inspiring and valuable – I’m grateful to Kev for his generosity and I feel like I’ve found a collaborator. As I have more of these conversations and ideas, I’ll share them here.

In the meantime, if you have a shared intention or want to help me find a way to make this stuff real, please do get in touch.

This post was filed under Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. Kate St John

    Really interesting ideas with the potential for enormous benefit to the whole organisation of the NHS. The first of your three points translated into practice would be transformative for workers and reverse some of the damage previously inflicted. The third would be the means to enable this to happen. What are the pathways to introduce and facilitate these ideas? How does an organisation (not broken, but partially dismantled and starved of resources) accommodate such ideas while being squeezed by political misunderstanding and an ethos that only recognises the bottom line? Forgive my pessimism – I am confident you have the antidote!

    Posted 4th November 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink
  2. George Pór

    Max, I love the spirit and fresh style of your initiative that comes from an authentic, human desire to brighten the life of those who give so much to us all.

    It also demonstrates nicely, just like most of NM, that markets are conversations and authentic speaking will always stand above the noise of old-style, stodgy, corporate-centric marketing language.

    What do you think of the idea of an NHS-specific MEANING conference, redesigned to EMBODY compassion, mindfulness, and collective intelligence, in collaboration with Future Considerations that has many NHS contacts?

    Posted 6th November 2014 at 3:00 am | Permalink
  3. Geoff Watson

    Great thinking Max. The idea you present is certainly timely and with the right support in the right environment could lead to significant improvements in the daily lives of many – givers and receivers of healthcare. My personal approach has been to start with the givers through a series of workshops for doctors. Most attendees are trainees because we have targeted the deanery, responsible for organising and overseeing post-graduate training but we have delivered to medical students and consultants as well. By establishing that we have no intention to teach nor preach but with some initial direction to take some time to talk about themselves, compassion and care, ethos and branding (in no particular order). We believe there is a need to rediscover the reasons people entered the health professions, to give permission to each and everyone to take the time to look after themselves and their fellow providers.
    The biggest challenge will be to separate the ridiculous emphasis on money from the delivery of care. The boss of a large multinational does not allow the organisational finances to affect the daily work of the production line or showroom. In the NHS the chief executive of every Trust makes it their business to tell the workers how tough it is and how they may lose their jobs soon – while taking home maybe four or five times the typical salary plus an occasional bonus.
    I believe we have to focus on doing the right thing (we currently do many things of little or no benefit to our customers (patients) as well as we can and allow quality to lead and let the finances follow.
    Geoff Watson ICU consultant

    Posted 10th November 2014 at 10:54 pm | Permalink
  4. I love this vision, Max.

    Have you heard of the National Health Action Party?

    They’re a political party standing in elections with the goal of protecting the NHS.

    They’ve announced a small number of candidates for the 2015 general election, including our local constituency of East Worthing and Shoreham (where I live!).

    Their local candidate is a guy called Dr Carl Walker.
    Here he is on Twitter:
    And here’s his page on the NHAP site:

    I wonder if he would be a good person to speak to?


    Posted 11th November 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink