This is the first in a series of blogs about compassion. Compassion is the first value of Wellbeing Teams, and I want to learn how to build this into everything we do. Last week Andy Bradley talked about Compassion Circles in our podcast, and today Mary Freer starts the blog series and introduces  Compassion Labs. Mary’s focus is on building Compassionate Leadership that will nurture a more mindful, resilient and kind workforce. I met Mary last year at an event organised by Jackie Lynton, and her energy, creativity and drive for change is palpable. She brings to the challenge of reforming our existing health and social care services a strong focus on long term, co-created, large-scale change. Change that has the individual right at the centre. Over to Mary.

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you. L.R.Knost

It is now accepted that staff well being is an important antecedent for high quality client/patient experience ( Jill Maben 2016). We know that the way we treat each other at work has an  immediate and sometimes detrimental impact on the people we are caring for. Prof Amir Erez demonstrated in his 2016 study that rude and uncivil behaviour experienced at work impairs our capacity to perform our duties successfully. If one of our duties is to administer medication or intubate a patient this can have a catastrophic consequence (Erez, 2016; The Impact of Rudeness on Medical Team Performance: A Randomized Trial).

We also know that a compassionate work environment benefits caregivers who are likely to feel more engaged, less exhausted and have more satisfied clients/patients. Team members experiencing kindness at work will also have less sick days, be less likely to burn-out and will be inspired to perform more meaningfully in their work. (The Centre for Compassion, Altruism, Research and Education at Stanford University created this Infographic for Dignity Health).

Knowing all of this I created Compassion Lab so that people who work in health and social care could come together and learn about their capacity for compassion for others, and importantly for themselves. I think of compassion, not as a soft skill, but as a courageous and muscular set of actions and intentions that liberate all of us.

Compassion Lab is often delivered as a 2 Day workshop for up to 30 people. I want people to experience the accessibility  of mindfulness. Not in a spiritual or esoteric way but as an invitation that is open to us in every moment of our day. We step into that moment simply by being entirely present with each other without any judgement. I’m discovering that people are so accustomed to juggling and multi-tasking that they have mistaken that for efficiency. It’s only when we stop and attend to what is happening in this very moment that we realise how dangerously close to sleep walking we have become. So in some ways we wake up to the present moment.

We learn about the way our brain is wired to veer to the negative and to seek out potential for threat. This requires some corrective attention and a willingness to recognise when our sympathetic nervous system becomes up-regulated. We also spend time listening to our critical voice and our anxious voice and notice how quickly we can access their advice in any situation. We also discover how unhelpful and damaging our critical and anxious selves are. We spend some time giving ourselves the compassion we deserve as we practice loving kindness meditations and examine the calming effect compassion has on us.

I want people to come into a Compassion Lab and discover that compassion is about noticing the distress and suffering of others AND of ourselves and making a commitment to do something to alleviate that distress in every moment. I also want people to experience the energising quality of engaging in spacious conversations about the power of compassion in our lives.

At a Compassion Lab retreat we made this short video, I think you will get the sense of the love and the laughter that make these workshops sing.

I am excited about joining Mary in a Compassion Lab next year and to experience first hand this energy and insight, and will be sharing other opportunities for you to connect with Mary around compassion.


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A conversation with Denise, opened my eyes to other ways that Wellbeing Teams could work. Denise is a family leader and I was trying to see if I could help her with recruiting  Personal Assistants for her two sons. She is innovative and well informed, and had tried many of the ideas I suggested, but was willing to try a few more. You can hear her talk about it in our podcast, and it is clear how hard it is for families who end up being care-coordinators, and team managers when they simply want to be parents.

So could Wellbeing Teams help? This means that the young person’s support would be organised and delivered by a provider (Wellbeing Teams), through small, self-organised teams, in partnership with Community Circles. Wellbeing Teams therefore bring together paid support (co-ordinated by the Wellbeing Leader) with support from family, friends and the community (co-ordinated through a Community Circle) to ensure that the young person and their family get the support they want and need to move towards their aspirations. Young people and families have the same control that they would have if they wanted to recruit Personal Assistants (P.As) but without the administration and management responsibilities.

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Yesterday three excellent candidates accepted the roles of Community Circle Connector and Practice Coach. The recruitment workshop was a powerful experience. People left wanting to keep in touch with each other, talking about what it was like to be with people passionate about care, and thanking us for the experience. If it sounds more like team building than recruitment, it certainly felt that way. But we all know that good feelings after training or a conference is not a sufficient way to measure success. In this blog, Neil helps answer the question what should we be measuring and why.

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Two weeks ago I was expecting to be part of a Compassion Lab with Mary Freer in Australia. Instead, I found myself on the receiving end of compassion, after my sister, Wendy died. Wendy, or Boo as she was known in the family, had cancer and we knew we had months and not years left together. We were not expecting her to go so soon. She died suddenly at the end of September. I miss her terribly.
Before Boo died learning more about compassion at work was on my agenda. It is the first of the six values of Wellbeing Teams. Now it is in focus with a new intensity. This is a blog of intent. I want to ‘Learn Out Loud’ about compassion and what this means at work, and to me.

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Neil has been helping us to think about recruiting to our new roles of Community Circle Connectors and Practice and Team Coaches. Having thought about how to describe the role, who we are looking for, and avoiding the usual advert traps, we now think together about where to advertise. Previously I had just assumed that using electronic boards like Indeed and Linked In  were the best options for these roles, and reading  Saving Social Care helped me to see this differently.

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Our last blog looked at a different way to think about person-specifications, and this week we are looking at how you describe the role itself – the job description. We have two roles that we are recruiting two, Community Circle Connectors and a brand new role called the Practice Coach. Neil had two recommendations for how we could improve and this blog describes what they are and what we did.

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I am recruiting new Wellbeing Teams in Wigan in two phases. I am starting with the Practice Coaches, the Team Coaches, and the Community Circle Connectors, who will be supporting the teams. When they are in place, they will help us recruit the Wellbeing Teams. These are not typical roles, and the first step is to be able to clearly communicate the who we want to recruit and what the role is. We use a summary of the essence of the role, and then what it means in detail, and instead of a person specification we use the one-page profile format of ‘Could this be you?’.

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When I first heard about the different Generations I was suspicious, it sounded like mass stereotyping. When I heard Simon Sinek blame parents for their role in creating Generation Y I was annoyed. When I saw the work that Health Education England had done on bringing different generations into nursing, it made me think again.
We know we need more people working in care, and more young people. Efforts have been focussed on marketing campaigns, both nationally, through the work of Skills for Care, and regionally like Proud to Care South West. The assumption behind them is that people are not aware of how good working in care could be, so sharing stories from workers about their positive experience is a way to change this.

The work HEE has done on different generations suggests it could be more fundamental than that.

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