Why corporate compassion is essential in the new normal

Why corporate compassion is essential in the new normal

By Tammy Browning, SVP & President, KellyOCG

I believe that organizations with integrity and compassion are more likely to thrive in the post-pandemic world.

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us all so many lessons. On a personal level, the devastating impact of the virus has brought the importance of loved ones and the community into sharp focus. And professionally, organizations are learning that having authentic values is more important than ever to their workers, shareholders and customers.

Why? Many of us have questioned the role we’ve personally played in the pandemic, and whether or not we’re making the kind of positive impact we’d like to on the world. Research by law firm Slater & Gordon[1] backs this up: it shows that 41% of British people are considering quitting their jobs for more fulfilling work when the pandemic is over. This is staggering.

I strongly believe that this should be a wake-up call for organizations. Now, more than ever, we need to demonstrate values to our people, and start to have a more positive impact on the world.

The pandemic is changing the way employees think about purpose and values, and my role at KellyOCG gives me a ringside seat into the global workforce. So in this blog, I want to highlight the way organizations can respond to this changing dynamic, in order to attract and retain top talent, but also, to make the world a better place:

  1. Take a safety-first approach to running the business
  2. Bolster charitable efforts in a meaningful way
  3. Be transparent about changes that affect the workforce.

But first, let’s look at why this change is happening.

What’s changed? We expect corporate compassion

The pandemic has transformed the way employees feel about work and their colleagues. I’ve noticed this personally: we’re all much more compassionate and understanding. I’ve had colleagues who have had to leave meetings at the last minute to care for loved ones. We now know the names of the kids who pop up on screen during video calls – and the dogs barking in the background!

IBM’s Work From Home Pledge[2] caught my attention as evidence of this new attitude. Created by the CEO during the pandemic, it’s a series of eight commitments that include being sensitive to colleagues’ family needs, respecting boundaries to prevent video-call fatigue, and checking in on colleagues regularly. It’s a great example of how the workforce is becoming more caring.

But it goes beyond that too, and I’ve seen that employees are now even prepared to make financial sacrifices to help others, accepting – or even offer to take – a reduced salary to protect jobs in another team.

And the pandemic has also ignited a desire in us all to give back to our communities in a meaningful way. For example, it was amazing to see furloughed airline staff take up jobs or volunteer roles in supermarkets and healthcare to help support people during the crisis, something that was encouraged by the likes of Virgin Atlantic at the time.[3] It really shows that people’s views are changing and they want to give back.

At KellyOCG, we’ve done our bit to support the pandemic relief effort, placing scores of people at front-line operations, manufacturing hand sanitizer, and distributing tests and essential supplies. I know how much it means to our teams, and to me personally, to be able to support our clients and the wider community in this way. The sense of value and purpose it gives us is significant.

Unilever is another company that has shown it understands the power of corporate compassion, with many of its brands taking the lead over the years – skincare brand Dove, for instance, has long campaigned on women’s body confidence.

Unilever’s Social Mission Director Myriam Sidibe says that it is essential that brands have compassion now more than ever, and I couldn’t agree more.

“The most important stakeholder becomes the communities to which you sell,” she says. “Compassionate capitalism will be the way forward. There will be more and more conscious consumerism. If you can support brands and companies that are really, truly not only giving back, but building their business models around doing good, people will support this more and more.

“How can you reimagine capitalism in this world on fire?,” Sidibe asks. “How do you get to a point where in your core business, philanthropy and policy engagements are merged together? Businesses are stepping forward, but there needs to be a clear blueprint on how they operate in the future.”

A blueprint for the compassionate company

  1. Put employees’ health, safety and wellbeing at the center of your strategy

The safety and wellbeing of employees must be your number one concern – particularly in uncertain times, and with the potential for the virus to return in multiple waves.

It’s essential to follow government rules on reopening facilities in the aftermath of the pandemic, but that is the bare minimum. We have to go beyond these basic safety measures and offer employees additional wellbeing benefits.

Taking extraordinary steps to protect worker health has become the new normal for employers across the country.  A manufacturing client asked Kelly to source extra support to keep their large campus running safely. Kelly engaged 50 workers over the course of just a few days to man nearly 60 checkpoints around the large site and to carry out temperature checks using thermal scanners. This extra line of defense could protect the health of hundreds of workers.

Your workforce should be given a choice about where they work, if possible ­– in line with their own personal circumstances and values. Now that employees have proven they can work remotely, they must be offered that opportunity long term. A CNBC study showed that of those who worked remotely during the pandemic, 19% wanted to continue to work entirely remotely when things are safe again, and 38% want to work remotely more often than they used to.[4] Things are changing, and ignoring this is not an option. If remote working isn’t possible – for those who work on oil rigs or in laboratories, for example – offer flexible hours.

But balance is important: facilities such as offices should remain available for those who want or need to use them. How can you achieve that balance? By putting people at the heart of your post-pandemic strategies by carrying out regular surveys and focus groups.

Revamp your approach to charity

From Salesforce’s Pledge 1% program,[5] where the company pledges to donate 1% of its time, product and resources to the community, to bake sales and bike rides, most companies do something for charity.

But in the post-pandemic world, this will not be enough to meet our new sense of purpose and values. We need to do more.

Encouraging flexible working is a good first step, because it gives us more free time to support the causes that are closest to our hearts. Before the pandemic, many of us had the best intentions to give back to the community, but busy work schedules and travel made it difficult. I know I felt this.

It’s essential that we consider creating a reward and communications framework around giving back. This would ensure that employees’ charitable efforts are both encouraged and rewarded. Social media campaigns, incentive programs and external communications will be important factors in bringing this to life.

But we must go beyond supporting individuals’ efforts and make corporate commitments to charitable causes, too, offering money, time and resources back to the community. This will be a major investment, but one that will boost long-term reputation and chime with our new need for a sense of purpose.

  1. Be transparent to drive trust and protect your reputation

There’s nothing like a crisis to reveal a company’s true character.  And brands’ behavior during hard times is not easily forgotten – especially in today’s digital world. We’ve all seen examples of companies posting off-key content on social media, and suffering the consequences in the long term. Every company needs to lead as an agent of change to create a fully inclusive workplace culture.

Your reputation is not just a consumer consideration; it also affects your future employees. Research by Harvard Business Review shows that almost half of people would rule out taking a job with a company with a poor reputation, regardless of the prospect of a pay rise.[6] So we simply must act with integrity during the pandemic and beyond to attract and retain talent.

Transparency, internally and externally, is going to be crucial. I know from speaking to colleagues and friends that this is so important at this time. During the pandemic, employees in many roles and sectors risked their health, and that of their families, to keep working. We must respect that sacrifice and repay it with transparency. That means total clarity about the financial impact of the crisis on the company. Again, focus groups and surveys can involve employees in important decisions about the future, and an involved, empowered workforce tends to be a happier workforce.

The pandemic has shifted power dynamics. The virus does not respect status: everyone is at equal risk. Leading organizations have ensured that they treated all sectors of their workforce with equal levels of respect.

During this crisis, many of our customers have recognized workers who are essential and needed at certain sites. With one leading Life Sciences organization calling this the “superheroes on site bonus”.  The great thing about this bonus and the communication was that it was irrespective of a person’s status within the company whether full time or a gig worker, everyone was treated and received the same. In our client’s words, “this is a human crisis not bound by any description of the type of role you fill within the organization – all essential workers are to be recognized”.

Corporate compassion makes business sense  

The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed employees’ attitudes to work, to their colleagues, and to society and their place within it. It’s essential to evolve and not get left behind. That means:

  1. Taking a safety-first approach to running the business
  2. Bolstering charitable efforts in a meaningful way
  3. Being transparent about changes that affect the workforce.

At KellyOCG, we work with many different organizations, who are all looking to recruit and retain the best talent. And we know from experience that the best talent will always gravitate to companies with a conscience. Since the pandemic, this has only become more important, so it’s time to put purpose and values at the top of the agenda. Establishing a new purpose and incorporating human values is not just the right thing to do – it also makes business sense.


[1] Slater & Gordon, Pride and 'pointless' workplaces could cause NHS staff surge, May 1, 2020

[2] LinkedIn, I pledge to support my fellow IBMers working from home during COVID-19, May 2, 2020

[3] TravelWeekly, Coronavirus: Virgin Atlantic helps staff find supermarket and healthcare roles, March 31, 2020

[4] CNBC, Workers who still have their jobs are happier but working harder: CNBC survey, May 18, 2020

[5] Salesforce, Pledge 1%

[6] Harvard Business Review, “A Bad Reputation Costs a Company at Least 10% More Per Hire”, 29 March 2016