If you talk to enough people in this industry, you soon learn how starved they are for emotional support. Healthcare, as we all know, is a high-stress, emotionally draining career.
Call it what you will-mentoring, nurturing, moral support, positive reinforcement-having someone tell you you're doing a good job or asking how you are doing works miracles in reducing stress and generating positive energy.
I know I love it when someone tells me I've written a good column or given an inspiring speech. It just makes me feel better knowing that someone has recognized my skills. For most people this is an all-too-rare event. What this means in an organizational sense is that many people feel their work isn't appreciated or understood. Too many people in leadership positions can't seem to bring themselves to recognize that their achievements are due in large part to the skills and effort of colleagues. "I did this" should always be replaced by "we did this." The top person should share the spotlight with the team, praising them by name, rewarding them in every way and treating them with large doses of dignity and respect.
I recently received a program brochure talking about a program called "A Circle of Nurses." Because I've always been a big fan of and advocate for nurses I read the brochure description with great interest and was especially taken with a quote from well-known business authors Noel Tichy and Stratford Sherman: "Most organizations don't know how to deal with emotion, so they pretend it doesn't exist. By design, corporations seem emotionally barren. Feelings, one understands, are best expressed at home, where they won't gum up the machinery of scientific management. The emotional sterility of the business environment is a cordon sanitaire (sanitary shield) around the fear, jealousy, resentment, rage, longing, pride, ambition and God-knows-what-else that seethe in human hearts. ... Work inevitably, is an emotional experience; healthy people can't just drop their feelings off at home like a set of golf clubs. Yet management theory long neglected this realm, and we are just beginning to search for ways to harness the vast power of workers' emotional energy."
That's something to ponder. Dealing with people's emotions can be very complicated. Workers could have a sick child, a seriously ill relative, a friend who just died. They could be stressed just from daily life, getting the kids fed and off to school. Or one of those kids could be learning impaired or have a congenital disorder. Think of how alone and despairing a new mother is when she first returns to work, leaving her child at a facility where she doesn't really know anyone. Now she is thrown into a major project that was on hold until her return.
These are the things that employees bring with them to the day's work. Nobody expects them to just drop their worries at the door, even though they may be professionals who are intent on doing the best job they can. The question is whether anybody is paying enough attention to notice the stress. If they are, do they care? And if they care, are they willing to put forth the effort to do something about it?
I heard a story about someone who devised a way to make everyone on the staff feel appreciated. Some years ago Kenny Moore was a human resources manager at KeySpan Corp., an energy company based in New York. A one-time monk, Moore was worried about getting people not only to believe in their work but also to trust the company and be inspired to make KeySpan more successful. He came up with the idea of sending floral arrangements every Monday morning to two employees. What distinguishes Moore's project is the note he includes with the flowers. It reads, "Don't ever think your good efforts go unnoticed." And it's signed, "From someone who cares." To this day Moore, now KeySpan's corporate ombudsman, sends flowers every week. He doesn't claim to have boosted productivity or changed the culture. But he looks forward to every Monday because he knows that a couple of employees go home happy and eager to share the surprise package with friends and family. And as a result of this program, it seems other executives in the company have started to spend more time meeting one-on-one with employees.
Another company doing something unusual to give employees emotional support is East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika and its president, Terry Andrus. They have created the Cornerstone Society, an employee-run program to assist fellow workers in times of crisis, such as a serious illness, an accident or financial disaster. The society gets its money through voluntary payroll deductions and some fund-raisers, averaging $125,000 per year. People even contribute vacation and sick time to those who really need it.
Someone asked Andrus how he kept the system from getting abused and he said, "We do the right thing, and it always comes back to us."
These really are simple activities, but ones that give back in myriad ways to an organization. It shows that the leaders care about their employees not just in an economic sense but a human one, as well. Catering to the emotional side of a workforce is critical to building a sense of mutual trust and shared sacrifice. The payoffs are obvious.
Touch other people's lives,