Episode #177:  Compassionate Workplaces


Welcome to Health and Safety to Go broadcasting from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Host:  An organization’s key asset is their worker so ensuring that a worker is healthy and able to perform their duties to the best of their ability is the right thing to do.  To achieve this, employers can support the creation of a safe place, one where workers can share and discuss their concerns and one that fosters a caring culture of support in which everyone benefits.

One word to describe this type of workplace could be compassionate, and here to talk more about this is Jeff Moat, Chief Executive Officer of Pallium Canada.  Jeff, welcome, it's so great to have you here.

Jeff:  It's great to be here. Thank you.

Host:  So let's start this conversation with the word compassion.  Jeff, in your own words, how would you define a compassionate workplace?

Jeff:  Sure, so let's begin with that word, compassion. If you look at the Latin word for compassion, it actually means co-suffering which is interesting. So compassion has three components. The first one is this need to empathize with people and the situations that they're dealing with their problems. It's about genuinely caring for them and selflessly helping others when there is a need. So a compassionate workplace is where people, whether they're employees, managers, executives who are finding themselves in a caregiving role, who are grieving or dealing with a serious illness, receive the support they need.  It's a workplace that builds awareness and understanding of serious illness, caregiving and grief. It decreases the stigma associated with these feelings or experiences. It raises awareness of resources and supports, it prompts and enables support a conversation, and It ultimately empowers people to create a more compassionate culture.

Host:  So can you tell us a little bit more about the work that you do with Pallium Canada and how and where compassion comes into play and impacts workers and palliative care.

Jeff:  Sure. So Pallium is a non-profit organization based in Ottawa. We build palliative care capacity by providing health care workers, health care organizations and communities with the tools, resources and supports to ultimately provide better care for patients and families in communities right across the country.  And building on our 20 years of experience of developing evidence-based training and professional development programs of the healthcare sector, we've partnered with a team of subject matter experts in the field to create the country’s first comprehensive workplace initiative designed to prioritize compassionate workplace culture as a business strategy, to attract talent, drive engagement and retention, and improve happiness and satisfaction and ultimately possibly affect performance.

Host:  That's really interesting. So can you explain a little bit more about that? If we were to look at a compassionate workplace, what's the value in it for them?

Jeff:  First off, the need for compassion in the workplace is greater than ever.  And this statement was true well before the pandemic hit.  The need to ensure our employees who are caregiving, grieving or experiencing themselves a serious illness are properly supported, is amplified by the pandemic that is exposing many more of us to new and different forms of grief.  Millions of Canadians have had their work and personal lives disrupted.  As a result, employees are experiencing new types of grief, they're unable to support each other in traditional ways and they're suffering greater stress and anxiety.  And I think the pandemic demonstrates that it's more important than ever to have a strong and compassionate workplace culture.

We know that employers and employees across the country are heavily impacted by coronavirus and looking for help to support individuals who may be struggling as a caregiver or who experienced the loss of a friend or loved one, or who themselves are dealing with serious illness.  And let's face it, we know with an aging population, the proportion of the workforce impacted by serious illness and caregiving and grief will only continue to rise.

This isn't a problem for the future, these issues are impacting workplaces today.  35% of the Canadian workforce is struggling to balance professional obligations and the needs of caregiving.  And the Conference Board of Canada estimates that the annual cost of lost productivity due to caregiving is 1.3 billion every year.  Canada loses approximately 560,000 full-time equivalent employees from the workplace. The real world impact of this burden is even more acutely felt in the workplace because the burden is so often carried by workers who are 45 years or older.  And employees in this age category are often the most experienced members of a team and tend to make up a large portion of management positions.  So losing their expertise or replacing them can be quite costly.

Host:  So we know that there is a big need for compassionate workplaces. How can an employer or supervisor show compassion to staff?

Jeff:  Yeah, supervisors or people managers play a key role in creating a compassionate workplace. It's the supervisor who may be among the first to become aware of an employee who is perhaps finding themselves overburdened with caregiving, always dealing with a loved one or friend who is dying or maybe they're grieving the loss. These individuals are in a good position to support them.  Part of their role is to ensure a safe and healthy work environment and to help employees to be able to perform at work. It's important for a person to feel safe and comfortable to share their experiences with caregiving, dying and grieving.

Supervisors, I think can contribute to an employee's productivity wellness by identifying issues early on, encouraging help-seeking behaviors and supporting employees facing challenges through effective communication and accommodations.

Host:   Okay. So let's continue this talk about leaders, supervisors, managers, team leads, directors, the list goes on.  How can a leader show compassion to themselves, and when they show compassion to themselves, can this create a more compassionate and empathetic workplace for everyone?

Jeff: Well, yeah, then certainly the last part of your question, absolutely.  If you think that someone on your team is dealing with a serious illness, right or is overburdened by caregiving or is grieving, you know, you can set up a meeting with that employee to discuss the situation and you have to ensure that the approach that you take is sincere and personal to the employee. Every person's experience is unique and should be treated as such.  And remember that the information shared is confidential, unless the affected employee agrees that it can be shared with others. I think it's important to show empathy and compassion for the employee and their situation, and to share resources, whether their resources that are available inside the workplace or outside the workplace.  And the compassion workplace campaign certainly provides lists and resources that exist.  And I think it's really important to understand that in the times that we're living in, that we're all feeling anxious and depressed and traumatized and for those who are living alone or dealing with chronic health conditions are feeling lonely.  And there's been an increase in domestic violence and we know the impact the pandemic is worse for disadvantaged groups.

I think from a workplace perspective, take healthcare providers, you know, they're dealing directly with the impact of COVID, essential workers, truckers, delivery services, people at work in grocery stores. They're all putting themselves at risk and many have lost our employment, temporarily or indefinitely. And those who are working remotely, are juggling their work and caregiving duties whether that's for their children or maybe an elderly parent.  And the line between one's work and personal life is really becoming blurred.

So the pandemic has had a profound impact on our health and well-being and our work. So it's important to be mindful of this, to take care of oneself, and that is making sure that you know we give ourselves the time to decompress and we all have different ways of doing that.  Whether that's through exercise, whether that's through reading, turning off the device and giving yourself some much needed time to reflect and to change your mindset up, because it's so tough with many of us working remotely. It's tough to make that separation but it's so critical for our mental health.

Host:  That's definitely a good reminder. So before we wrap up, let's talk about your hope for workplaces. What do you hope employers can achieve through showing compassion or by participating in initiatives, like your compassionate workplace campaign?

Jeff: The goal of the compassionate workplace campaign is to create more compassionate work environments where Canadians who are as I said before, caregiving or grieving or dealing with a serious illness, ultimately receive the support that they need and we appreciate, right.   As I've said before the many organizations across the country, you know, they lack the tools and the resources and the expertise needed to effectively engage and support their employees through the changes necessary to create this more compassionate workplace culture. It's for this reason that Pallium Canada created the compassionate workplace campaign, to focus specifically on helping organizations create more compassionate workplaces and to provide simple to use resources that make it easy for any organization to become a leader on this important workplace challenge, and better support employees who are caregiving grieving or themselves experience in a settlement serious illness.

What the campaign does is it provides guides that help with the planning and implementation the campaign, practical tools that guide the internal policies and enable conversations and COVID specific resources to support employees virtually.  The campaign goes beyond raising awareness of the issue.  It really offers practical turnkey activities, tools and resources focused on driving engagement and learning in the workplace.  And it contains information and content to inform HR policies and practice. And it also includes both physical and digital only resources support organizations during the pandemic.

Host:   Thanks so much. So before we go, we typically like to wrap up with one piece of advice for workplaces. So if you could give one sentence or one tip for a workplace who is looking to start being a little bit more compassionate, what would that be?

Jeff:  Start the conversation, begin a dialogue that gets everyone in the workplace engaged around these topics that impact all of us.  The thing with caregiving or grief or serious illness is that it touches all of us. So the more quickly that we can recognize this, address it for what it is and to normalize it through conversation, those are important for steps to begin changing the culture within one’s workplace.

Host:  Thanks so much Jeff. It's been such a pleasure to speak with you and learn more about the work that you and your team are doing to help create compassionate and healthier workplaces. For more information on compassionate workplaces, you can visit CCOHS.ca.  Thanks for listening.