Every year, many of us get some Christmas cards that are accompanied by a Round Robin letter. Some, from friends who live too far away to visit regularly, are full of general news and help to keep everyone in touch. Those are great. But there are also those letters, nowaday sometimes a 'link' attached to an e-card or a message and a photo on social media, that only list the achievements of the sender's family members. Those are not so great and, in most cases, probably not a true refection of the sender's year. Surely, no one's life is ever that perfect. Those letters don't feel personal as they are sent to everyone regardless of the awful year the recipient may have had. Those letters may make the sender feel good about themselves but they run the risk of making others feel hopeless.
A good Christmas card is one that improves the recipient's day. It may contain a personal 'thank you' or a reminder of how much that person is valued. It doesn't have to be a long message. It could be a simple sentence. But it needs to be genuine and written with love.
Time and again, especially in large hospital Trusts, I see large posters on corridor walls carrying messages along with a photograph of a member of the senior management team. They are supposed to inspire and, to be fair, some do. But others are too general or else promise something that, in reality, is more of an aspiration. People who read them are often irritated. Some are, quite simply, insensitive. Imagine being told on a poster how valued you are when, in reality, you've just been made redundant or else, as a visitor, reading that the care is fantastic when you have just had to make a complaint.
The best leaders, especially those in the NHS, should have great sensitivity. The best leaders should always lead by example and think long and hard about the message they want to send to their clients and workforce. The best leaders should also take time to thank people personally for a job done well. No matter how big your organisation, there should always time to do that.
Years ago, I worked at Channel 4, TV. I have a memory of Chief Executive, Jeremy Isaacs, visiting everyone when it was their birthday and offering a simple rose, Some wore them as 'buttonholes, whilst others displayed them in a water bottle on their desk. It was brilliant. It meant that, over the course of a year, everyone met the boss, no one was left out and no one felt they were valued above someone else. It was fun. Also, everyone who saw it and knew it was your birthday. It made you feel special and part of one team. Channel 4 wasn't massive, so it was relatively easy for one person to do. But it is an exercise that could be repeated in large organisations, like the NHS, by dividing the job of delivering the gifts between several senior staff. It didn't take long and it was great for everyone, not just the person who had the birthday. I also suspect that Jeremy Isaacs learned a great deal from the experience too. It kept him in touch with the mood of his workforce. proving the old saying that , in many ways, it is always better to give than to receive.
And, by taking the time to do it himself, it also demonstrated that he didn't think that any job was too menial. The best bosses, in my opinion, do not look at their job description and decide that certain tasks are beneath them. They think, always, outside that box and think, always, what is the greater good.
One of my best nursing memories is of the Director of Nursing making a bed with me one morning when I was a student. She had heard that our ward was especially short staffed and, until other help was found, she had come along to lend a hand. She chatted to me as she worked, learning far more about the staff and patients on the ward than she would ever have gained from a more official visit or from a report sent to the board. During that simple act of kindness she shared some of her thoughts and encouraged me to share mine.
So many over-stretched senior staff fail to see the importance of the simple gestures. Fearing that doing any simple task that they believe, is outside, or beneath, their job description will only lead to muddle or trouble, they can make those staff, who may be struggling to cope, feel inadequate. And that makes those staff less efficient. No one wants to feel that their role is beneath anyone else. In hospitals, as in many other institutions, the most junior roles are often the most vital.
So, let's limit those messages on the wall that imply a hospital is perfect and do more towards an environment where everyone feels part of a team where, in times of stress, everyone pitches in.
Making beds, handing out cups of tea, responding to a patient's buzzer, answering the ward 'phone are simple, but hugely important jobs that can also be fun, especially if done in the spirit of friendship and an 'all hands on deck' mentality.
Of course, at this time of year messages in Christmas cards are a great way of keeping in touch with those you may not see very often. But think who is is going to read them and whether 'one size fits all' before you seal the envelope.
And for those who live near enough for you to visit, especially those older relatives and friends who may not have had such a great 12 months, as well as sending them a card, think what you can practically do to make a positive difference to them. It doesn't have to be complicated or hugely time consuming. Sending a simple gift, writing a letter or popping in for a cup of tea or coffee and a natter. Often the simplest gestures can make the greatest difference.