The Gift of Compassion

Compassion in the workplace

Days before Christmas, I gathered all my empty coffee cups and prepared for my winter solstice, briefly stopping in the doorway of my friends office to wish her a merry Christmas. I asked her about her plans, assuming they would be similar to mine: a loud chaotic celebration with family.

Her response caused me pause.

Her plans elicited a sense of pride, admiration, surprise, and sadness in me. I felt like an underachiever, now mind you that wasn’t her intention. However, I think it was a normal response when you encounter someone who puts words into actions.

Her plan was to go to a Wal-Mart, in an area that poverty is commonplace, with a stack of $25 gift cards. With her family, she would peruse the toy aisle looking for parents who were literally counting the change in their pockets in order to buy Christmas gifts for their children. I’ve been to this store and I am certain it wasn’t difficult to find recipients—people whose lives would be changed by $25.

Show of hands if you spend $25 a month at Starbucks or MacDonald’s…and we don’t really think twice about it, do we?

I’m not saying everyone should fling gift cards into a crowd, but it made me think of compassion. Honestly, I have thought about this gesture every night since December 22.

We work in an industry that cares for the sick, oftentimes without any promise of payment, which is in part the definition of compassion. However, does that compassion end at the visit?

The patient cycle begins at intake and ends when the bill is paid. If you’ve done it well, your patient will return when they need to (let’s face it, even patients shop for the best deal). There are so many factors involved in this tangled web and humans can be trying, especially when they’re sick. In the age of technology we have to remember there are eyes and ears everywhere. Are you certain your entire staff is engaging your patients with compassion? Facebook and Twitter are filled with examples that show we are not.

We are device-driven, often wishing for more hours in a day. We walk away from our computers, just for a second, leaving them unlocked. One second turns to an hour. Your laptop is stashed behind the passenger’s seat and you run into the dry cleaners. You text your friend who is a dermatologist about another friend who has a suspicious mole. You vent to your circle of friends on Facebook about a rude patient who chewed you out at the office. Careless and not compassionate.

Take a moment to think of ways to empower your staff. Educate them, value them, and realize everyone’s job is difficult and critical to your business. Studies show that employees who feel valued at work will strive to do a better job and increase retention rates. The compassion you extend to your staff will trickle down to your patients.

Meanwhile…. Next Christmas you can find us at Wal-Mart trying to start a movement.