At Oasis, we are curious about people in relationship at the heart of Health and Social Care and their power to enhance humanity, compassion and love in caring service.
I’m feeling inspired by a recent article that explores the impact of sustainability action by businesses on their workforce and the people inside those organisations. Building on three decades of research inquiry and organisational development, David Cooperrider and Ron Fry (Journal of Corporate Citizenship, No 46, Summer 2012) reflect on their observations that when people help life ‘out there’ to flourish, they cannot help but benefit themselves. That when ‘people learn about and work toward building a sustainable world, they too are poised to flourish in ways that elevate innovation, personal excellence and workplace well-being’ (p3). They think this might be the ‘human development business opportunity of our time’ in engaging entire workforces in creating meaning, connecting strengths and building together.
This is stimulating stuff and leads me to wonder what it might mean in the context of our exploratory inquiry about people and relationship in health and social care services in the UK? How does working for the benefit of others and for the ‘good’ of society impact on care workers, and how might focusing on deepening relationships and whole person connections enliven and enhance health and social care?
At Oasis, people with a passion for health and social care have been talking about how we create healthy and supportive relationships and how compassion, equality, love and even humanity can get lost along the way in our often beleaguered care services. Stories abound of patients and social care customers being neglected, ignored, treated as a condition (‘the heart attack in the corner bed’) rather than a person. Staff are frequently blamed for mistakes and oversights, and after each public scandal, there is a tendency to react quickly, usually with more systems and checks on top of the already weighty paper-and target-based processes for assessing and providing care. Often when we focus on fixing what’s wrong, ‘we forget that at the core of any caring service is the relationship between one human being and another’ (Oasis). Not only are relationships between carers and patients/customers often overlooked, but so are the relationships for staff throughout caring organisations. Yet it is widely acknowledged that where staff are valued, supported and treated well, this will be reflected in the way they respect, value and treat their patients and customers.
In my work with local social care and health authorities in the last five years, we have engaged service users and their carers in appreciative inquiries about their best experiences of care. Without exception, the key elements of these stories are about being listened to, being treated with respect, being offered choices from someone who takes the time to get to know their patient/customers; and who will work alongside individuals, reliably and flexibly, in finding their own ways to live fulfilling lives. Sometimes the key to helping another person is to spend time really listening to what they say and what is important to them.
The following story from an East Midlands Regional Workforce Summit in July 2013 was told by Mike, a local Social Care Support Worker:
‘You’ve only got to sit with him!’
I was sent to work at the home of Jim, a middle aged man with a history of mental ill health. When he was allocated to me, my manager told me ‘you’ve only got to sit with him’, meaning that he wouldn’t want anything further and it would be an easy task. Gradually getting to know Jim, I realised how wrong this was and what an opportunity he was missing. Through our conversations, I discovered that what would really help him would be to go out but that he was scared and particularly about handling money. We talked about this and we started to go out – to local cafés, the shop and the pub. I went with him as a companion and supporter and we practised skills of being out, talking to people and buying things with his own money. Over time, Jim has grown in confidence and he now goes out independently, has a much improved quality of life and needs less care support, and certainly not someone to ‘only sit with him’.
In exploring the conditions of success behind this story, Mike identified the following principles:
- Person-centred values – people at the centre; people coming first.
- Passionate – finding what people are passionate about and helping them do this.
- Professional – taking time and putting in effort to support clients and be reliable.
In developing our inquiry about people in relationship at the heart of health and social care, we are interested in questions like:
- How can we rekindle a focus on human relationships as the core of caring? How do we build on the values and qualities that brought us into caring professions?
- How do we bring back a sense of compassion, even love to our dealings with each other? How do we promote a sense of personal responsibility – both for ourselves as professionals and in the way we all look after our own wellbeing?
- What might be some of the characteristics of the culture we want to develop within care? And where do we start – in the relationship between professional and patients or the relationships between and amongst staff, leaders and managers?
And from what we already know about co-creating healthy, supportive and effective working relationships through whole person learning, working and living:
- What does it mean to be a ‘whole person’ working/living/caring in health and social care?
- What are people already doing to reach/connect with the whole? And what are they learning?
The inquiry focus is still developing and the conversations are growing. If you would like to be part of this or want to contribute in any way, then please contact Julie Barnes on O1937 541700 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or speak to others in the group: Audrey Birt, Nick Ellerby, Chris Taylor and Irwin Williams.
So, going back to where I started, how does understanding more about the impact of the quest for sustainable value help us here? Coopperrider and Fry powerfully ask: ‘How, precisely, might an organisation’s quest for sustainable value bring out the best, not just on the outside – helping to advance a better society or world – but also bring out the best on the ‘inside’ – in the flourishing of people, the quality of their relationships, their health and well-being, their motivation and performance and their capacity for growth, resilience and positive change?’
What has this to do with health and social care relationships and outcomes? My hunch is… everything and I’m curious to explore this further with people in different parts of the care system. I’m left with images and thoughts about working for the good of the whole and the impact for individuals when they are part of helping others to flourish, as individuals, families or whole communities. And how can we reconnect with the original hopes and wishes of care workers and those who need support – harnessing the benefits of building together to support each other in creating fulfilling and healthy lives?