As I drove in my car the other day I heard a story about the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) that made me wonder about the state of the world. Two senior nurses, and by senior I mean really senior – at the very top, are kicking off an initiative to introduce compassionate care into today’s health service. Nursing is often referred to as the “caring profession”. So why, if not to heal the sick and make people feel well, do people become nurses? Perhaps because it’s a job, and brings in money? I don’t think the answer is quite as simple as this, but there is an underlying problem that affects all professions, not just the “caring” one, and is an indictment of the society we live in.
These are pretty ungrateful times. Trust, confidence, hope have become tainted by inappropriate litigious, performance and cost constraint behaviours. The NHS in the UK, just like teaching, policing and other public sector roles, and private sector ones too, suffers from a breakdown in common courtesy and caring.
I see a triangle between employee, customer (patient, user etc) and the company. Communication is key, of course, but also courtesy (which costs nothing) and care (which costs a little).
Let’s go back to the NHS. Imagine a huge organisation where well people are the product, hospitals are the factory, and nurses are some of the factory workers. Unwell people are fed in at one end and, in theory, healed people come out of the other. But there’s a twist. Simply pushing everyone along the production line doesn’t produce perfect results because everyone is individual. Some of their needs are locked away inside of them and not written down on the patient’s record. So a nurse plays a vital role in the well-being of the patient, not just by administering the drugs and performing other duties, but by caring for the patient. Not just following procedure but by adding a personal element, going the extra step.
Now, say you are a nurse and prepared to care more, but two other elements come into play. The patient is rude and demanding, and your boss expects that you walk faster between tasks, follow the procedure, don’t challenge the way things are done, and move on to the next task. There’s not much incentive to care, is there?
We can apply this to every single aspect of life. I spoke to my neighbour recently who is in the police force. As we talked we got onto the subject of courtesy and the way that the public treats policemen and women, which can be pretty appalling. I pointed out that police can come across as forceful (which may be a necessary attribute) and belligerent, and that this doesn’t get any conversation off to a good start. We agreed that communication, courtesy and caring works both ways.
The industrial revolution gave us low cost, mass produced products available to the wider population. Technology has enabled us to communicate more quickly and to operate more efficiently. Analytics means we can understand more about what is going on so that change can be effected. But people are not machines without feelings, needs and wants. The state (or corporation) cannot provide everything. We need to maintain a healthy human element.
I applaud bringing compassionate care back into nursing but am saddened that this is necessary. The same applies to every role, even customer service delivered from contact centres. If people are encouraged to care. If customers didn’t feel the need to bully their way to get attention. If managers lead by example and not just by numbers. People, problems, things would be better very soon and, I think, the cost of everything would come down.
Has anyone created a formula that looks at the how the cost of providing a service is affected by clear communication, caring properly, and being courteous?