As I have traveled down the rabbit hole of empathy in the workplace, there is a common theme: healthcare. Rightfully, so the first place that empathy researchers are focusing is in hospitals and doctors’ offices. It makes perfect sense that healthcare workers should be a group of people who have empathy for others. There are some who do it much better than others.
I recently read a book about Appalachia coal mining called Soul Full of Coal Dust. The book is a deep dive into the trials and tribulations of miners trying to get black lung support. The coal companies would hire expensive attorneys who would then hire expensive doctors to refute black lung claims. One such doctor actually never diagnosed black lung in all the cases he reviewed. When interviewed he was steadfast that miners were trying to take advantage of the system. The system in which would give miners around $750 to $1000 a month. Even when shown the governmental standard slides for diagnosing black lung, he argued it was not.
In my opinion, this was a doctor who went to medical school for prestige and profit. This was not someone who had a great deal of empathy or even basic care for other humans. If there was a profession that I think should have the greatest amount of empathy it would be those that directly impact the life and death of others. So, it makes sense that researchers first focused on these professions when looking for empathy in the workplace.
The research is interesting as it hints that empathy is needed but may not be something that can be fully learned and accepted by all people. Instead, there are suggestions for how to standardize patient contact to create a feeling of empathy. There were ideas for frequency and duration of contact, methods of questions to bring out the needs of the patient, and methods for attentive patient care. In a broad sense, it was not learning empathy but learning how to engage with people on a human level. I found this interesting because in the business world, empathy is not nearly as valued as in the medical field. Maybe there are some ways that we can use this knowledge to help create better leaders.