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RECOGNIZING COMPASSION: CoxHealth’s Andrew Hedgpeth says a compassionate demeanor is a must for leadership positions at the hospital.
SBJ photo by Wes Hamilton
RECOGNIZING COMPASSION: CoxHealth’s Andrew Hedgpeth says a compassionate demeanor is a must for leadership positions at the hospital.

‘Firms of Endearment’: How and why to cultivate compassion, caring in workplace

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Marie-Josee Shaar burned out at 15 years old.

A driven student, Shaar said she involved herself in too many activities and soon her health began to suffer – along with all those aspirations she was striving to accomplish.

“I was trying too hard to do too many things, too many goals. And no matter how motivated you are, if you don’t take care of your health, it will catch up with you,” she said. “The beautiful thing is that, when I started to exercise more regularly and sleep a little better and manage my stress better, my grades and all the other goals I was after improved. That’s when I decided I wanted to help other people not make the same mistakes I did.”

Today, Shaar has a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and is a certified nutrition and wellness consultant, personal trainer and wellness culture coach. She’s the keynote speaker for Ollis/Akers/Arney’s 11th annual Wellness Conference, slated Nov. 2 and held in conjunction with the Bass Pro Outdoor Fitness Festival.

The 2017 conference theme is “All You Need is Love,” which is also the title of Shaar’s presentation highlighting caring and compassion in the workplace.

“When people experience more love in their lives – and that could be on the giving end, or the receiving end or even the witness on the receiving end – that tends to have significant health benefits,” Shaar said.

Those health benefits include greater glucose regulation, lowered hypertension, better recovery from cardiac conditions, and fewer cases of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Shaar said Harvard University’s Grant Study is an example of why cultivating an environment of compassion and caring between employees is vital for workplace wellness.

Eighty years in the making, the study on the psychosocial predictors of healthy aging concluded, “good genes are nice, but joy is better.” The study began in 1938 with the analysis of the mental and physical health of 268 Harvard sophomores during the Great Depression, and it turned into one of the world’s longest studies of adult life. The study tracked the mental and physical health, World War II experiences, work, relationships, aging and retirement of all participants – including President John F. Kennedy and Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee. Participants filled out questionnaires every two years, submitted medical records every five and conducted interviews every 10.

The data expanded to include the original participant’s children and wives, and later included Boston inner-city residents of the Glueck Study.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships, and how happy we are in our relationships, has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in a Harvard Gazette story. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

CoxHealth Human Resources Vice President Andrew Hedgpeth said this type of relationship between health care workers is common.

“We tend to rally around individuals. You tend to see a different atmosphere in this culture. These individuals are just designed naturally to take care of others,” he said. “A lot of it comes naturally, but you really have to cultivate it.”

One way, Hedgpeth said, is by awarding employees who display significant acts of compassion and caring. These individuals may be nominated by their co-workers or bosses for formal recognition.

“Its so important to recognize people for doing great work,” Hedgpeth said. “It’s so rejuvenating. It puts your faith back in humanity. In hard times, it makes you feel fortunate to work with some amazing people.”

To see results, company management also should develop compassionate and caring habits – creating a trickle-down effect to all levels of the business. At CoxHealth, Hedgpeth said a compassionate demeanor is a requirement to be considered for a leadership position.

“They will be so much more productive and effective and efficient if they focus on their people first, and focus on their employees and letting their employees know they care about them as people – not just cogs,” he said.

And when companies are creating kind-hearted cultures, which cultivate health benefits and more productive workers, Shaar said, that’s going to impact the bottom line.

Businesses that incorporate the words “compassion,” “care” or “love” in their mission statements, code of ethics or corporate values, are called “Firms of Endearment,” referencing the book by the same name by David Wolfe, Raj Sisodia and Jag Sheth.

“It’s written down somewhere that matters,” Shaar said. “As a result of the companies that act on a belief that love matters, it’s not just love for employees, it’s love for suppliers and people they deal with.”

The book lists 66 companies, including Panera Bread, Starbucks, Google, Amazon and Southwest Airlines.

Shaar said the “Firms of Endearment” have out-performed the stock market’s Standard & Poor’s 500 index by an 8-1 ratio in a recent 10-year period.

As strategic adviser and wellness director at Ollis/Akers/Arney, Cameron Black said his goal is to create a work environment where the firm’s employees feel welcome and comfortable.

“We want better attitudes, people feeling good about being at work, people getting to their desks and doing their jobs and still having a smile on their faces at the end of the day – even if it’s stressful,” he said.

Ollis/Akers/Arney has incorporated a wellness program for 11 years, and it’s a topic at the forefront – which is why the company hosts the wellness conference annually.

“We take this so seriously,” he said. “We have two locations, and we close facilities down for this wellness conference.”

Shaar agreed the culture of a workplace environment is critical. So vital, she suggests incorporating displays of compassion into an employee’s evaluation.

“When people realize this is something formally addressed at work, they will start paying attention,” she said. “Now people are reminded it’s important and, in this office, we value support and gratitude to one another.”

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