Guest Blog: Helping Staff To Feel They Belong
Guest blog about inclusivity at work from Kath Howard - Assistant Director of People & OD at Samaritans
Organisations can be lonely places. It’s not unusual for organisations to talk about ‘employee engagement’ and inclusion but when the big stuff goes on in someone’s personal life, it’s taboo or not welcomed to mention it at work.
For example, most of my close friends have experienced some challenge in having children, caring for children or being asked why they don’t have children. Yet very, very few have had strong support at work when going through the tough stuff or they haven’t known how to access this. These people have worked in organisations that consider themselves to be inclusive and caring, yet women have gone through IVF avoiding telling their employer, and partners have struggled to get leave approved following pregnancy loss.
We’ve been reviewing our people principles at Samaritans to provide support how and when people need it. I’m not a fan of the term ‘family friendly’ policies. Perhaps because I’ve never found that many HR documents have a friendly vibe about them. But for want of a better term, we’ve been reviewing these in particular. We want people to know how to access support when they need it, and this relates to support for all caring responsibilities. We want to support people to be there for those they care about and to know they’ll be supported at work.
We explicitly state that support and paid leave will be provided to those who experience pregnancy loss and to those who have fertility treatment. For example, we provide up to ten days paid leave for pregnancy loss relating to stillbirth, miscarriage and abortion. And of course there will be times that more will be needed. This leave is for either partner and for couples who are pregnant through surrogacy, and it is for all our people regardless of gender. We recognise the importance of supporting all those impacted by pregnancy loss. I have been inspired by the support provided by organisations such as Peppy in this area and we’ll be aiming to provide more practical support.
We focus on supporting peri-menopause and menopause in our well-being approach, providing time off and flexibility to respond to symptoms. We recognise the impact menopause can have on the mental health and well being of women.
And on a different topic, we’ve also updated our leave policy, which now enables employees to work on any faith-based holiday and to swap this for a paid day off of their choosing. This is part of our commitment to be an inclusive employer.
All these things are small changes but they signal a workplace that is inclusive and cares. I know we’re not the first to introduce any of the above. What inspires me is that I also know we won’t be the last. Employees are demanding this and more of their employers, and so they should. I may be in a bit of a bubble but I’d like to think there’s a tipping point coming where person-centred cultures with human practices become the norm.
Samaritans prides itself for being “there for everyone” and has always welcomed anyone to use its services. However, in recent times we have been reflecting on all parts of our business. The team at Samaritans had already updated our equality, diversity and inclusion policy, as well as reviewing our recruitment and various other processes and procedures. As a leadership team we knew this would never be enough and we needed to do more. We engaged with Lucy Caldicott because of her approach, experience and passion for social change. Lucy supported the development of our brief, engaged sensitivity with key stakeholders and gave us the tools to develop our commitment to creating a culture of belonging where diversity is celebrated. There is no rule book for diversity and inclusion but Lucy helped us see how this work is intrinsic to Samaritans' mission and connected the organisation back to its founding principles. She was able to guide us sensitively, and helped give us the confidence to ensure inclusion and diversity is part of every aspect of our work and culture.
Sonya Trivedy, Executive Director of Income, Samaritans
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