Four ways to lead with care and compassion as Covid continues

15 September 2021
Christine Williamson

by Christine Williamson

Director, Duty of Care International

The past 18 months have seen leaders and managers grapple with the health and safety of their staff in ways they haven’t needed to before, which should change the relationship we have with staff for the better. This blog offers four ways to lead and manage your people that also strengthen your duty of care practices.

Organisations have a duty to care for their staff and any civilian receiving their services. The duty of care lens has shifted during Covid, and it needed to. It has forced organisations to find or strengthen ways of connecting, protecting and supporting their staff, in a more meaningful and compassionate way.

This may seem like a difficult thing to do or sustain, especially when managing diverse and remote teams working in already complex and high-pressure environments.  However, stronger duty of care practices prevent harm, make staff feel valued, enable staff to be more productive and contribute towards a healthy and safe working environment.

Being a meaningful and compassionate leader is about your ability to apply the organisation’s employment practices and support services coupled with your capacity as a leader or manager to be self-aware, trustworthy, respectful, non-judgemental, and be open to listen and learn, creative and flexible, and have an ongoing commitment to building  relationships, whilst also recognising your limits and need for support and mentorship from your manager and Trustees.  Compassionate leadership needs to be modelled from the top.

There is often not one perfect or simple solution to an organisation’s duty of obligations and prevention of harm. Multiple elements working together strengthen the organisation’s ability to keep their staff safe.  Here are four ways to lead with care and compassion :

1. Sharing leadership and power inclusively

Shared leadership leads to shared ownership and accountability, inclusive decisions, more creativity and solutions and, in times of absence and transition, there are amazing people to count on. It can also lead to a safer place to admit mistakes and learn. Shared and inclusive leadership works in direct contrast to the abuse of power and discrimination.

Practical tips & tools:

  • Develop principles on team structure – build in deputization, positions for short-term senior cover, shared objectives.
  • Collect feedback on leadership performance and behaviours – do this more regularly when transitioning to different ways of working, using different forms of engagement i.e., pulse surveys and staff forums.
  • Govern meetings well – the chair is to ensure inclusivity, ownership and timely monitoring of actions.
  • When adopting flexible working arrangements i.e., working remotely, produce:
    • Clear guidance on how to manage staff and activities and how to stay connected and supported. Build team consensus (charters) on how the team will stay connected and supported.
    • Continually monitor the success of this guidance. Encourage feedback from those most affected. These new ways of working are a cultural shift and likely to impact your digital infrastructure and digital safety (safeguarding) systems and practices.
  • Use personal or professional development plans to identify and support the areas where a staff member may need further support with transition to new ways of working or a return to the workplace.

Photo credit: Unsplash: Christina-wocintechchat-com.

2. Caring about performance

Make your regular reviews with team members a priority. Plan for a good outcome and share the positive impact of a staff member’s contribution. Be clear about what needs delivering and why.  Ask if it’s possible; if the new ways of working or any other changes the staff member is experiencing are impacting performance or likely to cause personal challenges. Ask what support is needed. Give autonomy and transfer accountability, with clear guidance on what’s essential to escalate. Remove, don’t add to, the stress someone may already be feeling. Discuss performance issues early and in a calm and supportive way. Dealing with performance issues early on can prevent longer-term issues with trust, stress, sickness absence, and the need to use more formal, time-consuming, and difficult processes like grievance or capability.

Practical tips & tools:

  • Plan for every review meeting.
  • Share notes and commitments from previous meetings.
  • Agree on clear performance objectives/deliverables and discuss regularly. Be solutions-focused and adapt or review objectives when challenges occur.
  • Use personal or professional development plans to set development goals.

3. Caring about health

It is an organisation’s duty to understand whether the workplace is adversely impacting an individual’s physical or mental health. The conversation around mental health is less of a taboo than it used to be, but stigma and discrimination still exist, and organisations are best to identify the systems and practices which staff feel psychologically safe to use.  Be inclusive – one size won’t fit all.  Find out from all staff groups what support mechanisms they need to support the situations they are in – whether that be work-related or personal.

For staff on leave for reasons such as maternity, paternity or ongoing ill-health, it’s so important to include and support them through any transition or changes to practice that is happening in their absence.

Practical tips & tools:

  • Train managers in Mental Health First Aid (and psychological safety).
  • Use Occupational Health Therapists (OHT) early on to gain a fuller understanding of your staff member’s health and the best support.
  • Use reasonable adjustments, often identified by an OHT – such as flexible working arrangements.
  • Use different absence policies – sickness, compassionate.
  • Use counselling or advisory services (see resource section for more information).
  • Use training or coaching and include in the personal or professional development plans.

4. Caring about personal matters

Understanding someone’s personal needs and what they are going through outside the workplace isn’t necessarily something a manager can resolve, but it is something a manager should try and support. The meaningful response here is to ask the question and decide how to best respond and support the individual with the resources at the organisation’s disposal. Where possible, a manager should enable and not prevent someone from resolving their personal issues.

Practical tips & tools:

  • Use flexible working arrangements.
  • Use compassionate leave.
  • Use counselling or advisory services.

For more lessons on leadership with care, sign up for the CHS Exchange conference, 28-30 September “Raising the Standard for people in crisis: Holding ourselves to account.”

Further resources