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Businesses face all kinds of challenges but handling sensitive and unpleasant situations with employees is part and parcel of any management role. But what happens when the directors themselves need managing?
At P3PM, we recently supported one of our clients through a very challenging time when one of their directors was sadly diagnosed with a serious neurological condition within a month of being promoted at the firm.
Andrea was one of the most senior members of staff at a large professional practice based in Manchester. She was an outstanding performer and an effective team leader and had only just been promoted to director level.
Sadly, towards the end of 2015, Andrea was taken ill and was eventually diagnosed with severe Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The prognosis was unclear but Andrea was very determined to return to work. However, the MS had had a massive impact on her. Half of her face was numbed, along with the right side of her body. Once out of hospital, Andrea remained off work for almost a year and, as a loyal, determined and hardworking employee, the business made every effort to support her through her rehabilitation.
As such an important part of the business, Andrea was responsible for a team of around five people and was also the key relationship manager with several of the firm’s clients.
The business’s response
From a business perspective, the most pressing matter at the start was to re-allocate her workload to other members of the team to ensure clients received a consistent and expected level of service. Due to the seniority of her role, this was a real challenge and took several weeks to manage.
Her fellow company directors visited her regularly in hospital and at home and they frequently discussed her strong desire to return to work.
The impact on the business
Financially, the business supported her with full pay for a period of six months, followed by half pay. After a year, Andrea periodically returned to the office but without being given any specific tasks. This was a necessary step as the business had a duty of care both to the employee and its clients.
Eventually, she began a phased return to work, with reduced hours, and the business tried to support her ambition of returning to work in a more permanent capacity.
To ensure there was no unacceptable risk to her, her colleagues or clients, she had no formal workload, deadlines or responsibilities but, sadly, she struggled with even the most basic of tasks as she was suffering with chronic fatigue, a common symptom of MS.
After about six months, it became clear that she was unlikely to be able to make any significant contribution at work and, in actual fact, she may never be able to work again.
The business liaised with their P3PM HR Business Partner to understand their obligations and options. They met on several occasions to discuss the case over this time period and, together, they mapped out the process which needed to take place.
With the employee and the business equally in mind, P3PM proposed an occupational health assessment to determine what Andrea could and couldn’t do. They then discussed the results of the assessment together and, between them, determined the course of action required.
The business continued to work closely with P3PM and eventually realised that there was unlikely to be any other option available and that, ultimately, they had to proceed with a settlement agreement.
The entire process took around 18 months but, once it was clear that Andrea was unlikely to work again, the settlement process took around 2-3 months. The cost to the business, including the salary she was paid over the whole period and the settlement payment, was around £50,000.
Added to this was the time it took to manage the process as well as the additional time spent by colleagues taking over her workload and re-establishing client relationships.
This would have had a significant impact on the bottom line of any business but, if they were a smaller firm, it would have been much harder to absorb these costs.
The business learnt a lot following this experience, largely that they should not have allowed it to continue for so long and that they should have started the final settlement process much earlier. On reflection, what was good for the business and the individual were not balanced well enough. When faced with a challenging, but very personal, situation they put compassion and support to the individual (financially and emotionally) much further ahead of the needs of the rest of the business and this led to a much larger financial burden at the end of the day.
“"A small organisation making big changes wanting calm and clear support on how to deliver a restructure programme: P3 supported us on all elements; with a timetable of activity for Board so they felt confident all steps were in place and importantly all staff were considered and supported; process roll-out guidance; production of letters for staff; 1:1 support for me, the MD, as we handled the emotional and personal challenges that any restructure generates, as most importantly it's about people. Thank you P3"”
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