When we think of compassionate people, we’ll often think of those working in healthcare. The nurse who takes care of us, at our worst. The doctors who combine feelings of empathy and sympathy, with a strong desire to alleviate suffering through care. Compassion is often what draws people to medicine in the first place.
But that compassion is being put at risk by the demands from our healthcare systems. As doctors are constantly being asked to do more with less, their motivation and stress levels are being impacted. Resulting in physician burnout reaching such critical levels, it’s now a public health crisis¹.
According to a Stanford study, 50% of doctors reported feeling symptoms of depression, emotional exhaustion, work dissatisfaction, and a loss in confidence². Of these doctors, they are twice as likely to commit a serious medical error and jeopardize the wellbeing of their patients³.
In recent years, the role of compassion in healthcare has become a major, emerging topic in the scientific community. Dozens of research studies have concluded that a culture of compassionate patient care is the key to improve health outcomes. It reduces workplace stress, burnout, and protects healthcare providers who are taking on today’s most pressing healthcare challenges⁴.
Why a Compassionate Culture Matters
One of the benefits of a compassionate workplace is employee retention.
Employees who experience empathy, understanding, and kindness from their managers and colleagues are likely to stay at their job. In fact, 89% of employees would recommend their workplace as a good place to work if it supports well-being initiatives⁵. Organizations with toxic environments tend to have high turnover rates. In fact, 80% of Millennials and 66% of Baby Boomers would leave their job if their office became less empathetic⁶.
Stress is the largest contributor to mental health problems in the workplace. Nothing causes stress to an employee like poor management or lack of support from leadership. But not all stress is bad. It gives employees the opportunity to improve their problem-solving skills and ability to cope with challenges thrown at them.
The type of stress all organizations should be afraid of is “long-term stress”. It deeply impairs judgement, thoughts, behaviour, and physical health. If an organization fails to help employees manage their stress, it will impact all fronts including finance, business, and human resources outcomes.⁷
A compassionate culture encourages employees to express their stress in a healthy, productive way without judgement or fear of reprehension. Employees feel heard and validated, minimizing the impact stress can have on an organization.
Leading with compassion at work results in employees who are dedicated to their organization’s vision and work to win as a team⁸.
Compassion promotes generosity and builds affective trust between employees, their manager, and their organization as a whole. When employees feel valued and cared for, they will voluntarily offer support and care to others they work with.
Seven Principles to a Culture of Compassionate Care
Creating a compassionate culture means supporting, guiding, recognizing, and rewarding workers who incorporate compassion into their day-to-day routines and practices.
We know changing workplace culture is challenging. Which is why we compiled seven best practices to help people facing that challenge. These practices were used by leading healthcare organizations to build and nurture a culture of compassion.
- Commitments to compassionate leadership
- To teach compassion
- To value and reward compassion
- To incorporate feedback from frontline employees
- To partner with patients and families
- To build compassion into healthcare delivery
- To deepen our understanding of compassion
Leaders are “culture carriers,” modelling what it means to deliver compassionate care. Leaders who are committed to creating a culture of compassionate care:
- Demonstrate Ethical Standards: Maintain high ethical standards and integrity in their daily activities in order to gain the trust and respect of employees
- Gain Management Buy-In: Ensure that compassionate care resonates from the top-down, extending through all organizational levels
- Have a Passion for Learning: Inspire continuous learning and challenge their own assumptions, grow their expertise, and develop their team’s capabilities
- Remove Barriers: Identify and remove the barriers keeping their workforce from achieving the success they want
- Avoid Pointing Fingers: Focus on what teams need versus what they aren’t doing; they offer guidance and put the right resources in place
- Lead with Hope: Acknowledge and support team members to use their skills, talents, insights, and passion for the greater good
Many people think that someone is born compassionate. But research has shown that compassion-based qualities like patience, kindness and warmth can be taught through effective training.
Recognize and Reward Compassionate Care
Employee reward and recognition programs help motivate employees to change their work habits and understand the steps needed to do so. Many hospitals and education institutes have already tied their rewards and recognition programs for compassionate care. Encouraging employees to take accountability in building a compassionate workplace culture and delivering compassionate services to patients.
Feedback from Healthcare Providers
Although a change in culture starts from the top-down, leaders need to understand their employees’ perspectives and incorporate it into new corporate policies. A constructive feedback loop creates more effective policies by incorporating real-world insights from frontline employees. Surprisingly, only 17% of organizations consult their employees when developing their compassionate care policies, preventing them from responding to actual patients’ needs and wants⁹.
Support Families and Community
Hospitals and healthcare clinics are vital parts of a community. And engagement with patients and their families is a vital part of healthcare leadership. Forward-thinking leaders understand the importance of building compassion beyond the walls of their hospital and connecting with local communities and cultures. This community of compassion, helps build a solid reputation, increases awareness, and attracts more patients, staff, and clinicians.
Embed Compassion into Healthcare Delivery
Compassionate care is a promise to patients, families, and providers. As a fundamental priority, compassion should be a core value to support the vision, culture, and practice within a healthcare organization. Core values are a big part of an organization’s “why,” and helps align resources to identify the “what” and implement the “how.”
For example, compassion as a core value:
- WHAT: To build trust and genuine connections with patients
- HOW: Be compassionate, respectful, and responsive to them and their family’s perspective, culture, concerns, needs, and preferences (also known as patient-centred care)
- WHY: It will lead to better patient outcomes, high performance and engagement, and lower costs within healthcare systems and payers
Compassionate care aids in a patient’s recovery and gives them a greater sense of responsibility and control over their health. Physician empathy has shown to help improve patient satisfaction and strengthen patient enablement. It also reduces anxiety and delivers better patient and organizational outcomes.
Deepen Understanding of Compassion
Healthcare workers have a strong understanding of science-based practices. While many understand that compassion matters from a human perspective, its role in healthcare outcome metrics, is not always understood. Metrics such as mortality, readmission, and patient experience can all be linked to compassionate care. Leaders should stress that compassion is a powerful tool they can use to excel at work.
A lot of healthcare organizations rely on individual healthcare workers to carry the culture of empathy, kindness, and compassion at work. However, studies have shown that only when compassionate care becomes a day-to-day organizational norm that patient experience and employee engagement improves. By creating a more sustainable, compassionate, and mindful workforce, leaders will see improvements in engagement and reductions in burnout, absenteeism, and turnover rates¹¹.