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Defining Success in Social Impact Poll#3 Duty of Care

The third scenario in the series ‘Defining Success in Social Impact’ considered the following scenario:


"As a direct result of partnering with a hostel for the homeless, you are pleased to be able to employ an individual with experience of long-term homelessness. When his employment starts, his ‘address’ is that of the (nearby) hostel, but after sustaining employment for 6 months he is able to sign a lease for his own flat.


This flat is over 10 miles away, and represents the nearest, affordable accommodation available. As such, the travel time for this person becomes a lengthy and expensive commute on public transport. As a result, this person’s timekeeping and attendance starts to become erratic, affecting his work.


Have you a duty of care for this person?"


No, the organisation holds no Duty of Care


There is a strong argument for this response. This person was employed to perform a task for the organisation, and if they cannot deliver this, then ‘normal’ disciplinary processes should apply. The company cannot be seen to be showing preferential treatment for any member of staff. We’ve all seen the toxic culture that can be created within a workplace when staff perceive that other employees are receiving ‘special’ treatment, and as a result many organisations take a zero tolerance approach to issues such as timekeeping and attendance in an attempt to be seen as ‘fair’.


However, let us consider an alternative approach.


Yes, the organisation holds a Duty of Care


75% of you believed that yes, there was a duty of care toward the employee.


This employee has shown that he is capable of sustaining employment with the additional support he was receiving from the Hostel, however with his move to independent living, he has encountered a number of challenges (distance and financial) to his attending work, combined with the loss of the support provided by the Hostel staff. His performance once at work is not the issue, rather his attendance and time keeping at work.


This person has been employed in the full knowledge that he has been long term unemployed. An understanding of the causality of this is important. Whilst we are all different, for many, homelessness is caused by a lack of familial support, mental health problems and/or failures within the social system to provide shelter/benefits. Whilst this person neither demands, nor expects ‘preferential’ or ‘special’ treatment, the organisation must recognise that it is likely that he will have additional support needs to enable him to sustain employment.


In a pure #SocialImpact sense, if this individual fails to sustain employment for 12 months, then the programme has failed. But this person isn’t a number, he’s a human being. The ultimate aim is for him to become a valuable and valued member of the organisation, sustaining long term employment. In fact, the ultimate aim is for EVERY employee to feel valued and valuable, so there’s no real conflict here is there?


Fulfilling a Duty of Care


All employees, at some time or another, will be in a difficult place. What we’re really talking about is how we create systems in our workplaces which support our people, recognising that in some cases, at times, there may be significant support needed. 


In the case of the employee in the scenario, here are some ideas for how to fulfil a duty of care for that person, without favouritism or privilege.


Flexible working


@TracyTodd comments "He should explore flexible working, as long as he is honest, explains the reasons and shows his commitment to the role you would like to think his employer will try their best to work with him to find a workable solution."


Creating a working culture where flexible working is embraced would probably help this person. They won’t feel like they have failed if they don’t arrive at 9am, and once in the workplace they are performing well. Consider how vital it is that all staff are in the office at a certain time, perhaps identify ‘core’ work hours with flexibility each end of the day.


Employee Travel Scheme


Peter Kay’s Car Share is a great advocate for travel to work schemes, and for this person (while they might not find love) a company supported and promoted car share programme could help their timekeeping, financial situation and build friendships with colleagues.


Staff Hardship Fund


The person has most likely just had to fork out a significant bond for his accommodation. Money is probably an issue for him now, combined with the high costs of rural public transport. A staff hardship fund would benefit everyone and show that the organisation is committed to employee wellbeing.


Life Skills based CPD


This person may be experiencing certain challenges with life skills, such as time management, sleep regulation, budgeting if they are now living independently. Consider integrating training on life skills and wellbeing within company CPD programmes, and invite all staff into these opportunities.


Specialist Support Partners


The support that this person has received from the Hostel staff is marked now it have been removed. Consider partnerships with local charity and social providers, to enable staff to access ongoing support from these specialists.



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