Compassionate leave - Museums Association

Compassionate leave

Compassion is more than a policy

Compassion is the sympathetic concern for the suffering or misfortune of others. 

As a new manager you’ll have a lot to learn, and established managers in new or changing teams will also have a lot to learn.

A highly emotive situation, for example where a member of your team loses a loved one, whether sudden or expected, can place additional pressures on you as you try to balance their needs and support them with the potential needs and support requirements of the rest of the team.

We can all learn how to support this human inevitability sensitively, professionally and humanely. The following information and resource links will help you feel better equipped and more confident in advance.

Know the policy

As part of your induction in any new organisation, or as a newly appointed manager, you should read the policies that affect the way you will lead and manage your teams. The compassionate leave policy may not be one that comes to mind right away, and you may not one think of it as a priority on joining, or at all until you are in a relevant situation.

The policy will often give a defined number of days ‘allowed’, or it may say ‘at the manager’s discretion’.

Discuss with the HR team (if you have one) or your line manager regarding the organisational approach and precedents, and be true to yourself as a compassionate leader.

Remember that everyone responds differently to grief so there should be latitude in how you respond to support your team, too.

Know yourself

Having good self-awareness is critical for a good manager or leader. Understanding your drivers, your insecurities and your style is helpful in all situations. It helps you adapt your approach – which is, as a manager and leader, your responsibility to get the best out of your team.

In situations like this it is important to understand your thoughts and feelings about death, loss and grief.

Even if you have experienced loss yourself, it is important to remember that everyone is different and what may have worked for you may not be appropriate for your team member.

Know your team

As a manager, time invested in getting to know your team is never wasted. Understanding their career to date, their motivators and their aspirations will help you realise their potential and improve team performance.

In addition to the ‘getting to know you’ approach, other information can be gathered about the person, so listen carefully to their comments to help you build a picture of the person.

Through conversations with the team, your line manager, individual records or the HR team if you have one, you may be able to identify others in your team that have experienced recent loss. This can help you be mindful of the impact a colleague’s loss may have on them.

Know your limits

You are a manager not a counsellor – being available, empathic and patient are all excellent starts to you supporting your team but there may come a point at which you are not best placed to give them the support they need.  

Highlighting that this point may come as part of your early engagement is really important, so that if or when you do need to signpost to other resources, refer to HR or occupational health, the person does not feel that you are giving up or moving on.

Know the resources

Depending on the size of your organisation there may be in-house occupational health staff or an external employee assistance programme which could help. Your organisation may have recognised trade unions that have specific support or guidance available.

There are many resources that can be used to help you as a manager manage the process, as well as resources for the person.

A list of resources can be found at the bottom of the page. 

Know that…

You have a role to play, but that role will be different for every person – ask them what role they need you to play and what they need from you.

Remember you can’t take their pain away, but you can be there and you can hold space for them.

Loss is broader than the loss of a loved one, and you can apply compassionate skills to other types of loss, for example team changes through redundancy or turnover, loss of status, identity or power. All can be supported through being available, empathic and patient. 



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