GTP22: Supporting a compassionate community with employers

St Giles Hospice Care

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2022 Growth Through People campaign.

Growth Through People is the Chamber’s annual campaign aiming to help local firms boost productivity and grow through improved leadership and people management skills. In 2022 this involves 8 free webinars and events sharing best practice advice and guidance taking place throughout March, and a Growth Through People conference on 30th March. In addition, throughout the campaign the Chambers will be publishing thought leadership podcasts and blog content such as this.

Thanks to our Headline Partners and Sponsors – Aston University, Birmingham City Council, South and City College Birmingham and the West Midlands Combined Authority - all Growth Through People workshops are free to attend. Interested readers can find out more and register to attend Growth Through People workshops here, and the Growth Through People conference here.

Employers of all shapes and sizes are part of our community.  We’ve seen during the pandemic how businesses have rallied to support the community in whatever way they could.  However, as we face the biggest bereavement challenge since the 1940s it is essential that employers consider their internal and external community.

A Compassionate Community is one that recognises the benefits of friendship, laughter and a sense of belonging.  There is scientific evidence that backs up the importance of compassion to our health and wellbeing, however, we know it and feel it, every day.

How employers respond to their colleagues who are living with a serious illness, are care givers or are grieving is part of the culture of a business and it seeps into the community.  It impacts on recruitment, retention, sickness absence levels and reputation.  The people we employ are not only part of the business, they are part of their community whether that be in neighbouring towns or digital.

Compassionate Communities UK and St Giles Hospice co-delivered an Employers Conference in February 2022 after analysing the results of a survey that went out on social media asking for people’s experience of working with or supporting someone in the workplace with regards to serious illness and bereavement.   There were some wonderful examples of compassion very much focused on what an individual needs and how the team can help.  However, unfortunately there were many examples that were less positive where people felt under-pressure, not supported and managers largely out of their depth.  One such example…

“Mum died during the pandemic after significant period of illness.  Felt I had to finish off some work related activities that afternoon after being up all night knowing that I would be off for 10 days until after the funeral.  Felt I had to do this as no one stepped in to do.  Presumption that I would be back to swing after the funeral and got laden with additional workload not less.  Was functioning on auto pilot when in reality I was exhausted”.

It was expected that the key issue from the survey would be the nature of bereavement leave policies and therefore improving these would be a possible quick win for organisations, however, the survey demonstrated that the policies, at the moment, are not particularly helpful.  Managers, team members and employees experiencing these challenging times, according to the survey results, are not receiving training, coaching or support on the skills required to understand, manage and provide a compassionate response and how that aligns to organisational expectations.  It feels like a confusing picture – people want to do the right thing – but in many examples, do not quite balance the response and support needed both for the individual, the team and the business.

Of course employers want to be seen as compassionate alongside being efficient, productive, successful etc.  This is beyond compassionate leadership and good human resource policies.  Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement said – “how people die remains in the memory of those who live on” – and they are often our employees.  Their experience at these challenging times can make or break their psychological contract with their employer.  Contact the author to find out more.

Dr Emma Hodges DBA
Group Chief Executive, St Giles Hospice Care
Honorary Lecturer, School of Law, Keele University