Posted: 20 April 2021
Lisa Cowley, CEO of Beacon Vision discusses the organisations approach to compassionate and human leadership. Beacon Vision is a leading regional charity, supporting people across the Black Country and Staffordshire impacted by or at high risk of sight loss
Our response to the pandemic is one of humanity and empathy with the recognition of how important it is to connect with staff on a human level. We’re very open about the challenges and fears we’re all facing, acknowledging that as a leadership team, sometimes we don’t have the answer or know what to do and that’s ok.
Connecting with others
We thought about how we can keep connectivity when some staff were working from home, some were shielding themselves, their children, or relatives. We were conscious that those natural opportunities for social chat and support in the workplace had changed to working in isolation or delivering care in a busy and pressured environment.
One idea was to set up a closed staff Facebook group as an opportunity to share both the supportive and silly to keep each other going. We held a pet photo competition, an interesting discussion about which Grease movie was the best and anything that would make a slight difference, using humour to lift the mood where we could. We recognised that staff were juggling home schooling, childcare, looking after relatives and keeping themselves safe, which all have an impact on wellbeing, whatever the level.
Doing things differently
We’ve had to learn to work in different ways with leaders stepping in to work on the frontline, staff learning how to use new digital platforms, supporting others to use digital and having to learn new skills. We’ve supported wherever we can, particularly for those who find digital more challenging, so it’s means it’s one less pressure for them and not adding to an already difficult situation.
As leaders working on the frontline, we found this helped to break down barriers and really build connectivity and trust. Staff were working with us on a human level and could see and feel that we were in it together. We were open about challenges that arose where we didn’t know how to respond and would do whatever we could to support the staff, people supported and their families.
We’ve all been affected on different levels and to encourage staff to look after themselves, we gave those who aren’t customer facing 30 minutes for themselves to do whatever they wanted, whether that was to walk the dog, have a sleep, go for a
run, do what worked for them. For our care staff, we paid them an extra 30 mins to take time for themselves. Staff went for runs, took their children to the park and hid in the bathtub. This was piloted during the November “lockdown” and we are exploring how we build it into a broader wellbeing programme.
One of our managers is on call for staff 24/7, in normal circumstances this is to deal with emergencies or staff absences. In recent times it has evolved to become more of a staff support route, especially in relation to Covid-19 contacts, test results and concerns and family issues. The fact there is a manager there that can talk them through the issue has provided reassurance and common queries FAQs have evolved to support the team at all times.
Our whole organisational approach
Our Trustee Board is very supportive and visible. They connect with staff, getting to know them on a personal level and staff know that they can contact them, if needed. As a CEO having that level of support has been invaluable, especially in the darkest days of working on the frontline alongside my day job.
At every level from trustees to grassroots staff, we have been clear that it is acceptable and beneficial to show emotion and not put always put on a brave face. We’ve had some really difficult and heart wrenching situations and by showing our natural human emotions, this enables others to have permission to share how they’re feeling too.
Our leadership culture is one of openness and honesty. We have an employee assistance programme and recognise that without the support from leaders who promote the positives of individual wellbeing and that no-one is expected to be ok at this time, it wouldn’t get used. There’s a whole host of emotions whether that’s grief, loss, guilt and a level of anxiety and uncertainty. I’d be surprised if anyone said they were ok.
There is no one size fits all approach to wellbeing and everyone’s circumstances are different. However, the essential element is communication. Person centred and considered regular communication with a recognition of what each person is going through has increased trust and confidence.
Overall, we encourage a whole organisation approach to supporting and understanding each other which has worked well to build a culture of openness, honesty and trust.