The importance of social impact was brought home for me on my adventure through the backcountry of the Alberta Rockies from the unique vantage point of my horse, Timone. The ride was a dream of mine that I also leveraged to support one of our signature charitable projects, Journey Home Hospice, Toronto’s only hospice specifically serving patients who have experienced homelessness and structural vulnerability.
Over six days and more than 80 kilometres of hard terrain, I had ample opportunity to reflect. As a nurse for more than 30 years in home and community care, I have seen firsthand the phenomenal need people experience at end-of-life and understand our social responsibility to help people during some of their most vulnerable moments.
Take Nicole, for example. She was a regular soccer mom with her SUV, children, a husband and a life that mattered. After experiencing domestic violence and having her back broken by her husband with a hammer, Nicole was prescribed pain medication that started her on her journey to homelessness. After losing her home, her children and being diagnosed with terminal cancer, her most sincere wish was for people to understand she was “just a normal person who had a hard time.”
Her story is not unique. Glen also called Journey Home Hospice at the end of his life. He had what he described as a “good life” with a great job, nice house, lovely wife and a son. After the brutal murder of his son, Glen found his life falling apart and eventually experienced homelessness, living on the streets not far from his previous home in Toronto’s Cabbagetown. Having a safe place to go and people to care for him at end-of-life helped him to find peace.
Nicole and Glen are just two examples of people falling through the cracks in our health-care system. Their stories are uncomfortable because we are forced to look at two major societal issues: dying and homelessness. There’s not many of us who know how to talk about either, and even fewer individuals or organizations willing to tackle the problem.
But there’s a reason to do it aside from the obvious answer that it’s the right thing to do. Investing in social impact is something organizations in the health-care field are uniquely positioned to do. We have the expertise within our own companies; perhaps more importantly, the work is important to our people.
We choose caring professions because we care.
Making a difference means something in health care. No one becomes a nurse, personal support worker, social worker or physician to get rich quickly – there are many careers that promise larger salaries and less emotional labour. We choose caring professions because we care. Even after the hardships experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging research reinforces the idea that finding higher meaning and purpose at work helps to reduce burnout and emotional exhaustion for nurses. This research could potentially be applied to other caring professions as well.
Another study on how nurses define meaning at work determined that having an underlying motivation or purpose helps individuals to have positive impacts on their organizations and peers. Similarly, a cross-sector study showed that sharing an articulated common purpose leads to more engaged, motivated and productive teams. These studies, and my own observed experiences, underscore the importance of having a greater goal, purpose or touchpoint to build cohesion amongst our teams.
As a leader with an opportunity to reflect, it is clear to me that organizational commitment to social impact matters. Our talented people tell us. Our recruiters tell us. Our job candidates tell us. Knowing that their day-to-day work contributes to a higher purpose, reinvesting resources into their communities for people in need makes a difference. Research confirms this anecdotal evidence. What they do matters for their patients; it matters for people like Nicole and Glen who have a home because of the efforts of thousands of people across Canada who insisted on a commitment to social innovation and investment from their employers. When we tell our social impact story, we are reflecting on the contributions of thousands of health-care professionals who believe in our purpose, mission, vision and values, and through their individual efforts, contribute to a collective good.
It’s a powerful lesson for me as a leader, and perhaps one that other leaders can also reflect on. If we want to create and maintain workforces of health-care professionals when job vacancies are at an all-time high – nurses, doctors, personal support workers, all types of health professionals are leaving the field en masse, and competition is fierce ̶– having a purpose can be what keeps our teams motivated, more productive and less prone to burnout. We need to remind people of the “why” behind what we do and consider ways we can use our considerable economic and social power to be a force for good.