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Let’s Work Together – Understanding & Tackling KSS Staff Retention project


Hard but ordinary problems can be solved in a finite time period by applying standard techniques. There’s growing recognition that the challenge of retaining staff, whilst familiar, is far from “ordinary”- indeed, it can be called a“wicked problem”. We know this because the number of people and opinions involved in retention is vast, the economic burden of this issue is huge and it’s a problem that’s deeply interconnected with other problems.

As a health and care system, we have to accept we have incomplete or contradictory insight into what’s needed to help us keep good people in our organisations. On this basis, HEE in collaboration with the innovation agency Clever Together took the bold step to explore the challenges of staff retention in Kent, Surrey and Sussex health and care organisations in a new way.

We consciously took an exploratory research, to look at the challenge through the views and experience of the staff working in the sector, rather than just the data in our hierarchies or pockets of success. Our aim was to challenge our assumptions and our presuppositions; we wanted to understand this complex matter in a smarter way.

Research approach

We designed a multi-channel communications approach to invite staff of all levels and backgrounds to an online summit. We invited them to explore and discuss how best to keep our people, why our people leave and examples of what appears to work and what doesn’t.

The big conversation consisted of a survey and an online workshop – a novel approach to crowd sourcing both quantitative and qualitative conversational data from thousands of people, across huge geographies.

The 24,888 data points captured by the big conversation were statistically and semantically analysed, and then triangulated with other literature and follow-up interviews. This distilled three new insights into our region’s staff retention and a proposal for action.


We learnt that KSS health and care workforce want to work in places that make them feel well led and well managed, and that their work is meaningful and they can access opportunities for growth and that their workspace is fit for purpose.

We also identified that some people feel their organisations are on their way to being such “model employers”, but no one has got this completely right nor is completely consistent. And what pleases staff today is likely to become expected tomorrow – satisfaction, it seems, might be a moving feast, even if our basic desires remain broadly the same.

Next steps

We will be working with organisations in KSS to take these findings to the next stage alongside our colleagues across the South East and in collaboration with other national bodies.

Find out more

To find out more about this study, please view the Let’s Work Together full report, summary and overview documents. Alternatively, you can visit the Clever Together website.