We live in an increasingly regulated society. As time plods on, it feels like more rules are rolled out telling us what to think, what to do and how to do it.
Don't get me wrong, rules are important in a civilised society, but there comes a point where we are regulated so much that we cease to build the capacity to think for ourselves and exercise good judgment.
After all, if we always have rules to fall back on, someone else has done all the thinking for us, right? But there is a problem with this. We have the regulatory mentality of not needing to think for ourselves, but without the realisation that the laws and rules still need to be applied to our everyday life. We need some sort of sense of judgement to do this effectively.
Let me give you an example. Recently, my husband was undergoing tests at a healthcare facility and I was there to keep him company. We were brought in from the waiting room, taken down a corridor and around a corner where three chairs were lined up against the wall. Another gentleman was sitting on one of them. Right there, in the hallway, the healthcare provider came up to my husband and started talking to him about his personal health information, asking him questions and taking notes. Then she brought out the blood pressure machine and took it right there, in the hallway. All in front of this other gentleman.
While this was going on, another person was being spoken to in the hallway by two healthcare providers about very sensitive, personal information without any care for his privacy or any sense of embarrassment that he may feel. My husband said he'd never felt more like a livestock animal in his life, being pushed through the flowchart of medical operations. It was undignified, insensitive and, actually, in breach of confidentiality rules clearly articulated for healthcare provision.
My husband told the person taking his blood pressure that he felt the way this was all being done was inappropriate and unprofessional. Her response was: "No-one has ever complained before."
Whether anyone complains or not really is irrelevant, as it's a breach of patient confidentiality. The rules were not being applied appropriately to the situation, because it was more convenient for them to line patients up in the hallway and bulk serve them.
We say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to raise an employee. Learning about the realities of how our rules apply in practice, the need to still be able to think for ourselves ... to identify when the letter of the law is being met but the spirit of it is falling short - that takes something more.
I found myself wondering if we should be using a client's willingness to complain as the benchmark for service delivery.
I mean, how many of us have sat in a chair watching a hairdresser cutting all our hair off before our very eyes, frozen on the spot in milquetoast panic as we are relentlessly shorn like a sheep? If we can't speak up to our hairdresser, is it a good idea to rely on patients to hold healthcare providers to an expected standard of practice? Hell, why should they have to? This stuff is regulated!
I think what is missing here is mentorship. It's one thing to know the rules, it's quite another to know how they should be employed in practice. An increasing number of job advertisements are requiring the skills of mentorship in its leaders and we all dutifully trudge out examples of how we'd coached someone less experienced than us. But is this really what mentorship is about?
We say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to raise an employee. Learning about the realities of how our rules apply in practice, the need to still be able to think for ourselves and recognise when something isn't working, to identify when the letter of the law is being met but the spirit of it is falling short - that takes something more.
It takes an experienced staff member taking the time to engage with and genuinely teach their colleagues about how we aren't just robots in a regulated world, we are humans with a responsibility that goes beyond the rulebook.
Mentorship bridges the generation gap at work and it is the key to retaining the humanity in service delivery. It's time we paid more than lip service to it.
Zoë Wundenberg is a careers writer and coach at impressability.com.au