The Healthcare Ethos – A Definition

Overview –Motivating People is Hard Work

Motivating people is hard work.  If you are responsible for more than yourself, you know the difficulties in keeping your staff engaged.  As tough as your circumstances are, consider this question.  How do you keep staff motivated working in a hospice in which every single client will die?  How do you motivate staff on a paediatric oncology department in which too many of the children will lose their battle with cancer?  How about within a mental hospital; how do you motivate the staff whose clients sometimes face limited cure possibilities, a life of poverty, loneliness and an ostracizing stigma?

These are the motivational challenges facing managers who work in healthcare.  Yet despite the seeming difficulty, the vast majority of people who work in healthcare enjoy their job and generally look forward to helping the patients and clients that they serve.

Motivators and Organizational Ethos

Good pay and benefits help, but as Herzberg pointed out, lack of pay and benefits may lead to job dissatisfaction but they are not themselves motivators.  Thus the enigma of what keeps a nurse, a doctor, or an aide going back to work, day after day and dealing with circumstances that are by definition life shattering?

The enigma of course is also the solution.  A number of separate studies of nurses have consistently shown that the prime motivation to enter that profession is to make a difference, engage in the human connection, a need to be needed and altruism.  Individuals working directly with patients are exposed to many of the strongest and most powerful human emotions.  Pain, suffering, despair are balanced against hope, joy and relief.  Thus frontline healthcare workers are active participants in the human condition.  For most healthcare workers, this exposure is life affirming and positive.

Of course healthcare workers are not unique in this regards.  Police officers, firemen, teachers or soldiers can also experience intense emotional environments.  In each case, a fraternity develops amongst the workers and there is a desire to do ‘good’.  In the case of healthcare I call this motivation and fraternity the healthcare ethos which is defined as follows:

“The vicarious emotional impact felt by healthcare workers as they experience the human condition indirectly through their patients.  This impact acts at the individual and group level as a motivator, driver to protect patients and as an affirmation of purpose and importance of the work done by the group or individual.”